Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Protective Parental Problematic Postulate


Surrounded by the swarming locusts of snot-nosed adorable precocious tween-aged background players and their scavenging protective Stage Moms who were pocketing free food from Craft Services like greedy-eyed marsupials on crack tending to the care and nurturing of their progeny, I stood motionless, unable to look away from the utter carnage, um, feeding frenzy er, idyllic maternal happenings.  “The AD said to grab a quick snack before we change into wardrobe” one peaches-and-cream-faced nugget yanked his mother by the shirt sleeve to the hot food area, snagging all but the last few measly greasy pieces of bacon.   “I can save these donuts for later!” another obnoxious cherished darling piped up; stubbornly unwilling to part with any of his Trifecta selection of a maple bar, chocolate-frosted cake delight and glazed honeybun.
Frankly (unfortunately), so is quite often the case on sets when our “television families” invite one-day “guests” into the comfort of our lives.  And much like “real life” families, you sort of expect to be eaten out of house and home, and just pray that they don’t walk away with Grandma’s china.

But as I’m still the new kid on the block at my current temporary show, and although we had been put to work prior to our call time for Lighting (hey, whatever helps the crew!), I politely held my tongue in deference at Crafty, clasped my hands over my growling belly, and only after the mayhem subsided a bit, folded the last of the bacon into half of a poor man’s BLT (sans the “L” and the “T”).

“Where’d ya find the mayo?” the young master Nugget wanted to know as he ogled my meager sandwich, a dribble of hot sauce from his heaping plate of cheesy scrambled eggs drizzling down his chin.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’ve been there...  Tough economy!  Money is tight!  And I’m at the TOP of the list to grab a banana out of the fruit basket (plus maybe two or three fun-sized Snickers bars from Props) and a Diet Coke out of the refrigerator after I’ve been released for the evening after work! 
But the essence of what had bothered me the most required a bit of soul-searching...

Certainly the children weren’t terribly at fault.  They were simply young and hungry self-entitled, pre-adolescent meal tickets actors!  And who is to say that they had never stepped foot to wildly ransack anything they could stuff in their hoodies on a studio lot before that day?  Even the Stage Moms who farmed them out like cattle in order to hoard single serving packets of snacks couldn’t necessarily be blamed!  After all, it took me YEARS as a newcomer to understand and respect the echelons and hierarchies that exist in show business!  (I STILL find the majority of the lines to be ambiguous at best as they vary from one production to another.)
“I dunno...” I postulated to myself at home that evening.  “Maybe I’m just a horrible person with no inborn maternal instincts” I contemplated, mindlessly patting Pretty’s “Reclining Faithful Feline Urn” containing my heroic side-kick kitty’s cremains.  “At least you had the decency to wipe your chin with your paw after a saucer of milk!”

With a ridiculously fabulously early out-time from work the following Wednesday - courtesy of one of Hollywood’s most notoriously speedy Sit-Com Directors, who barrels through scenes at the speed of lightning and who appreciates the fact that a whopping 20 minutes of a Sit-Com needn’t take up more than five hours of rehearsal (including lunch!) prior to a Network Run-Thru - I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself.

And hopping into Cecilia (my 1997 Toyota), we hit the road carefree!  Oh, the glamorous life of working in Show Biz!  Ah, the non-restrictive joys of earning a paycheck, but to still have the luxury of time to one’s self!  Yes!  I was a single woman in the heart of Tinsel Town with no obligations whatsoever, money forthcoming and the world at my fingertips!  I could spend the afternoon however I pleased without the slightest repercussions!

Having driven past the official “Star” Smog Check location a dozen times (with my DMV Renewal paperwork lurking ominously on Cecilia’s passenger seat), The Universe saw fit for us to be stopped at a singular red light on the usually well-synched green-lit travels of Santa Monica Boulevard.  And with absolutely no traffic behind or near me (how is that even possible?), I conceded to the ‘Will of The Universe’ and obligingly wheeled Cecilia into the right lane to turn into the unknown alien automotive center.
“We need a smog check” I whimpered, sweaty paperwork in hand, as Cecilia attempted to quash her occasional Tourette’s syndrome engine chirping noises.

“This other car is leaving now, so pull yours in, and you’ll be done in ten minutes!” the nicest Smog Star Man welcomed us into his garage.  “You can have a seat right there” he offered politely as Cecilia and I maintained mandatory ‘mother/motor’ eye contact.  “How are you today?” the Star Man wanted to know.  “And how did you hear about us?” he queried professionally as he took down our personal information as a local drive-by.  “Well, hopefully you’ll visit us again in two years for your next smog check!” he smiled, stuffing some sort of tubing into Cecilia’s tail pipe.  (Now, perhaps it was just my skewed protective maternal observation in the moment, but I could SWEAR that Cecilia GLARED at me for allowing such a personal violation of her under-carriage!)
“So, what’s with the whole “Star” Smog Check program?” I poetically reciprocally probed the technician.

Now, this is a huge FYI, PSA for California drivers:  Only the “Star” stations are officially licensed by the state.  They aren’t allowed to perform any mechanical fixes to your automobile if you fail, so there’s no money in their pockets if your car doesn’t pass.  There are still a plethora of smog testing garages all over the state, but those without the “Star” license, can blame your catalytic converter, sock you with a $300.00 bill, and leave YOU feeling like you got the tubing stuffed into your under-carriage.  ADDITIONALLY, make sure you warm up the car’s engine for at least 10 to 15 minutes prior to a smog test.  The mechanics are not allowed to do so for you, but Cecilia nearly failed the first part of her exam as she’d only been driven a few blocks from the Studio.  Solid info from the Star Man, and I just want to pay if forward.

As to the sticky congregation of thieving, conniving monsters most welcome guests on the show, I’d almost made peace with myself and the acceptance that children today are simply treated ever so differently than when I was growing up.  (Seriously, my parents would've quietly spit into a tissue to wipe sauce off of my face before ever letting me speak to an adult.)
But none of my extemporaneous soul-searching could have even begun to scratch the surface of what has become “acceptable” in the adolescent world these days, until I recently chatted with my Mom and Dad regarding my youngest nephew (age 13):

“The whole grading of “A” through “F” is gone at his school.  Teachers aren’t allowed to use red ink on a paper, since it might hurt a child’s feelings.  (Are you kidding me?)  And no one loses in a sporting competition, since keeping score might upset someone emotionally.  ‘Both sides played very well’ is the standard response after a game.”  (Wait, WHAT?)  And when asked what percentage of homework the teachers might actually expect to be turned in this semester, my nephew (MY NEPHEW!) graciously aspired to a whopping mediocrity of 80%.  (I’m sorry, but when the bloody fucking hell did doing homework become negotiable?)  UCK!  I nearly blew a gasket!  Someone call the Star Man!  (Just don’t touch my under-carriage!)

Frankly, I needed to return to a kinder, gentler view of the world since all of this molly-coddling madness made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.
And as if on cue from The Universe to re-awaken my inner child-like awe (which, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit, I still get every single time that I’m permitted the honor of working in Tinsel Town and stride onto a Studio lot!), there he was...

“How did THAT happen?!” my parents wanted to know, having received an emailed photograph.
“He and his son co-wrote last week’s episode!” I gushed uncontrollably on the phone.

And flashing back to Thursday where my fearless friend JT offered to arrange a Photo-Op with our Guest Writer, I attempted to stifle my brimming inner Ethel Mertz to the best of my professional abilities.
“Hey, JT, how are you?  Good to see you again!” the Guest Writer smiled warmly, shaking JT’s hand like they’d known each other for a lifetime.

“This is my friend Penny” JT nudged/jostled me (full-on deer in headlights) closer as I stood tree-like appropriately immobile outside of the personal space of the Hollywood Legend.  “She was hoping to get a photo with you if you don’t mind.”
“I’d be happy to!  Where would you like us?” our Guest Writer pleasantly obliged, as I lost all ability to speak, function or express my elation in any manner whatsoever aside from the occasional Tourette’s “EEK!”, an awkward hot flash and some mild hand tremors.  (Hey, like mother, like automobile!)

Allow me to share an iconic photo which will forever remain close to my heart; of myself and the brilliant Director, Actor, Producer, Creator of “Happy Days” and “The Odd Couple”; whose screen credits I still recall from childhood; and the brother of the only other “Penny” I’ve ever met (who disappointingly actually turned out to be a “Carole”, but hey, glass half full!):  GARRY MARSHALL. 

Wishing you all a shiny red helium balloon of joy tied to your wrist so you don’t lose it this week,
~Protective P

p.s. Wipe your chin!

Monday, August 19, 2013

It's Elementary, My Dear Watson!

Stepping into the metaphorical shoes of a fellow friend and Stand-In (who had been offered a lucrative Fall Season on a different Sit-Com); I wasn’t entirely sure that I could teeter in his (occasionally high as needed for Lighting) heels.
Having announced quite early on in his career that “he doesn’t do props”, most of the crews that he’s worked with over the last two decades simply accepted the fact and made do as necessary.

But as I was hired to take his place, ever so eager to please, and willing to carry absolutely anything in my paws or jump like a poodle through a flaming hoop with a ball on my nose to assist any Department for absolutely any of their specific needs, I laid wide awake at night worrying about making a good impression. 
Granted, crew members continually leap from show to show as work becomes available; but as this particular Sit-Com “family” had been together for 44 (I think) episodes already, I couldn’t help but feel like “Cousin Oliver” joining The Brady Bunch.

Indeed, I would need to bring the full arsenal of my skill set if I had any hope whatsoever of remaining employed during their last four episodes of the season.  Surely some awkward moments would arise as my Second Team adjusted emotionally to the loss of their beloved compadre, and I’d be naïve to believe that there might not be some feelings of resentment as I’d been foisted into their tightly knitted group...
Oh, but I was back in my element!  I was gainfully employed (albeit temporarily), and I had a few weeks to prove myself once again!

Methodically observing my specific actors and actresses, taking copious notes as necessary, and even comparing scripts with my friend CJ, she and I were certain that not only did we have the scene down pat for camera blocking, but that we would perform ever-so effortlessly for our Director.  (I’d never worked with him before, but again; I was eager to please!)

And hearing the cue for our entrance, CJ and I (two college educated women who have worked in the Industry for decades, and who were standing-in for a couple of chatty teenaged girls) proceeded to BUNGLE the CRAP out of the simplest act of walking and talking together for approximately five lines before we exited.

Was I seriously THAT off my game from being unemployed for so long?  Good heavens, had I also inadvertently fouled up CJ’s career with my stupidity and ineptness?  To say that we were embarrassed at our inability to execute the scene together would have been humiliating enough; but as BOTH the Camera Coordinator AND the Director entered the set to PHYSICALLY reposition us properly, suffice it to say we were absolutely MORTIFIED.
And lurking in the shadows (as I’m wont to do when I can’t find a suitable rock to crawl under after a miserable performance), I was grateful for a few moments of solitude in the darkness as the Lighting and Grip crews leapt upon their mighty ladders to adjust and tweak the set before pre-shoots.

“I have a red-headed son...” the Director suddenly appeared jovially by my side (EEK!), nodding towards my ponytail and busily accessing video footage on his cell phone.  “Actually, I have twin boys, but one is a red-head!” he beamed proudly showing me a recorded tape of his beautiful wife and two adorable children.  “I only mention it because the red-headed one - now that he’s a little bit more ambulatory - will stand straight up, turn COMPLETELY purple in the face, and then we know he’s pooping in his diaper!  How awesome would that be if I came over to give you a blocking note, and you made that face?!” he laughed good-naturedly before walking away, happily engrossed in the bountiful joy of his beloved offspring.
Um... Yeah, how unfortunately, horrifically “awesome” would THAT be???

Despite one (three day) week safely tucked under my belt of not completely botching up every other scene where I was standing-in, I could still practically smell the stink of unemployed desperation emanating from the very pores of my skin.

And apparently, I was not alone...

Seriously low on my Unemployment funds, having not yet booked a show for the Fall Season and despite my on-going sunny and hopeful disposition, apparently I was a rife target for all manner of con artists working the studio parking structure.
“Can I buy your earrings?” the delightful lady employee attendant wanted to know as I wearily attempted to retrieve my daily $10.00 refundable parking fee with my validation sticker after an eleven hour work day.

“Oh, absolutely not” I shook my head absurdly.  “These were a gift” I cooed as I tickled the beading for their dazzling light-reflective amber-colored beveling.
“Well, then can I buy your beautiful blue eyes?  They’re just stunning!” she continued, as I prattled along groggily and stupidly about having inherited my irises from my Grandfather on my Dad’s side.  “Well, you have a WONDERFUL evening” she smiled warmly as I toddled to the elevator, completely oblivious to the fact that I’d never actually retrieved my ten bucks.  (HEY!)

Purposefully striding towards the parking structure after another day of (significantly more successful!) work with a validation sticker in hand (oh, the irony that I needed a physical “validation” document to prove my self-worth!), I authoritatively presented my receipt for proper financial reimbursement.

“Do you have a car here?” the gentleman wanted to know.
“Of course I do” I pointed to the printed receipt.  (Seriously?)

“You know, you can just drive down and I’ll be happy to open the gate for you when you exit” he shrugged.
“And I thank you for that” I mustered up a smile; “but I would greatly appreciate getting my ten dollars back NOW, as I got side-tracked and stiffed last night.” 

“Oh...  Well..., I guess I just didn’t see your validation sticker there.  My bad!” he shrugged again, handing me a five and five ones.  “There’s nothing I can do about last night, but hey, these things happen, right?” 
(I repeat:  SERIOUSLY?)

“Hello again” I stared down the chick who had bilked me out of ten whole dollars two nights prior; who suddenly had absolutely nothing to say to me as she took her sweet time separating the parking sticker, who played with her hair and clicked on a text in her phone, and who eventually fumbled with the cash drawer before finally handing me my money since I wouldn’t go away.  “Have a WONDERFUL evening” I echoed her previous sentiments, as she suddenly became infinitely distracted by chewing a hangnail on her thumb.

In retrospect, I suspect that the loss of ten dollars was precisely the kick in the pants I needed from The Universe to help me get back my self-confidence. 

Not having yet booked a show for the fall season was embarrassing to be sure, but not letting people know that I was looking to be hired was even more detrimental.  And telling absolutely anyone who would listen that I needed work, I think I accomplished more in one week for my career than I’d done all summer!
And as to my current temporary situation as a replacement Stand-In, not only did I go the extra mile to hide a giant taped “X” on my t-shirt underneath my hoodie (for a proper reveal to the crew of what they might expect when my actor got the duct-taped “hair” ripped painfully off of his chest), but I was also rewarded with a High-5 from our Director as well as the promise from our 1st AD that I would indeed be employed to the end of their season (Aug. 30)!  WOO-HOO!!!

Now as our sound stage is notoriously haunted (my first week there, “something” whispered my name in my ear when there was absolutely no one else behind me – (apparently a very common occurrence for many of the crew)); I wasn’t particularly surprised that the Stand-In whose place I’d taken over had joined in the netherworld hovering (albeit via ever-so earthly texts and emails). 

Yes he’d gotten the upgrade to an additional payday each week on the new sit-com, but he missed his friends, the fun and the laughter! 
Yet as people come and go, through Life, Death (and show to show), all one can possibly do, is to try to adapt...

...and as for me?  Well, I’ll let you be the judge...
Please do enjoy this ABSOLUTELY random (certainly NOT April’s idea!), TOTALLY unrehearsed footage which just HAPPENED to be recorded at the commissary by my friend (and brilliant Director) Robbie Countryman who was NOT in cahoots with my fellow Second Teamers; nor was there ANY intent WHATSOEVER to taunt the gentleman whom I’d replaced, by my crew UNINTENTIONALLY uploading said footage onto ALL of their Facebook pages:

Truly back in my element,

~ Atomic Number 15, Phosphorescent P

(Tech note:  I've heard from a few friends that the video doesn't come through on certain hand-held devices and needs to be viewed from an actual computer.  Sorry!) 

Monday, August 12, 2013

My Iliad: Part Three (The Finale!)

(One of the GORGEOUS glass spheres our Hosts graciously gave to their guests with an etched memento on the bottom to memorialize their wedding date!)
Giddily rising before the alarm clock like a June Bride (well, in July; and, well, there would just be the two Grooms) to dress for the wedding celebration of my friends RJ and Richard at the lush gardens of the Widow Witting’s Mansion some 45 miles away, I did as any professional Actress might do and double-checked my wardrobe selection before sitting down in the Hair and Make-Up chair.

As I’d purchased my two long-ass (kick-ass!) strands of pearls specifically for this occasion, I already knew in advance that whatever costume I eventually selected could never possibly compete with the opulent gems; but at least I’d brought a few elegant choices that might play supporting roles in the cast of my ensemble.
“Hmm... a summer garden wedding...” I mused as I gracefully circled my suitcase.  “Oh, but of course!  I shall wear my ruffled white below-the-knee pencil skirt!”  (I’m not really sure what 1940’s Actress I was channeling, but she had good taste!) 

And lithely... um, acrobatically... um, AGGRESSIVELY hiking said pencil skirt over my belly, I took one look in the mirror and knew EXACTLY who I was channeling.
I WAS A SAUSAGE CASING!!!  Good LORD, you could practically make out the exact definition of the monster pork chop I’d had for dinner!

All I can say is thank goodness I woke up early enough to rectify my wardrobe malfunction.  (Plus, let’s face it:  WHITE?  Uck, I’d be filthy mess before we even got to the Photo Ops!) 
“...and I selected a black tunic with ebony beading; maroon (tummy tucking) pants and my spectacular black leather Pikolinos motorcycle boots with the chunky heels and the...”

“Wait, wait, WAIT!” my friend and Life Coach Ellie Mae stopped me dead in my tracks as she listened to me recount the tale of my pre-wedding jitters over the phone.  “This was a summer celebration in New York, in the oppressive humidity, and in a GARDEN?  What were you thinking?!  You go to Ross or TJ Maxx, and you spent twenty bucks on a flowery dress!”
“And then what?” I defied her.  “I teeter around all bow-ankled in uncomfortable pumps that I don’t know how to wear?”

“Of course not” she softened.  “You spend five more bucks for a pair of decorative matching flip-flops.”
Dear LORD, was she on DRUGS?!?!

In hindsight, I could see the mind-set where Ellie Mae was coming from; but also in hindsight, I was relieved that my blousy breathable beaded black tunic (made in a Fair Trade Market and hand-sewn in India by tiny, delicate, undernourished Artisan fingers who sized me as an XL (yeah, thanks for that...)), blissfully spared me from the recurring theme of puddles of perspiration drizzling down everyone else’s backs.  (Rock on, India!)

And if I’m reaching to express a point of view here, I would say that I simply had to be true to myself at the wedding of my cherished friends, who were bold enough to stand up in front of their “conventional” relatives and ceremoniously embrace the next step* in the rest of their lives together.
And hugging me in the procession line (despite my lack of floral summer attire and open-toed whappity-whap sandals), I giddily clapped as Richard whispered in my ear:  “I sooo love the pearls!”

(*Personal note:  As Richard had won $20,000.00 at the Casino the night before, RJ faltered a bit at the altar on the whole “for richer or for poorer” vow.  “Well, for RICHER...” he contemplated for a moment.  Classic!!!) 

With an easy-peasy (slightly delayed) flight from Syracuse NY to the International hub of the JFK airport, I popped a one dollar bill (what the heck - I’d already spent another $4.00 on a bottle of water) into one of two of the conveniently located Automated Massage Chairs just outside my gate for three minutes of absolute nirvana.
“On behalf of Jet Blue, we would like to apologize for the delay and we thank you for your patience.  We should be able to begin pre-flight boarding on B6 1515 to JFK within the next fifteen minutes” the friendly announcement sounded.

Fifteen minutes for families and special needs passengers to hop aboard first?  Well, hell’s bell, let’s pop another dollar or two into the back massage chair!
Oh, my travels were nearly completed!  Oh, The Universe was swaddling me in its arms with cosmic love, comfort and mechanical vibrations for all of my efforts! 

Oh... And I seemed to have inadvertently become the “Jiggling Jell-O Body of Advertisements” for Airport Massage Chairs as passers-by headed to their gates.
“Looks comfy” a sweaty gentleman towing luggage meandered and stopped by creepily.  (EEK!)

With a mere hop, skip and landing at JFK International in a perfectly short period of time, I actually contemplated exiting the massive structure for a ciggy since I had about a two hour layover to Burbank CA. 

Uck, but then there would be passing through security once again; and my goodness, the airport had to be HUGE! 
But rather than dealing with walking a gazillion miles, being scanned (AGAIN) by the TSA (and spending yet ANOTHER $4.00 for water?!), I settled into a Sports Bar locale directly across from my gate that not only offered hamburgers cooked to order, but also provided an excellent view of the specific boarding time for my flight.

“Look at you!” I prided to my tiny hand-held travel mirror; daubing smutch off my face whilst metaphorically patting myself on the back for all of my mighty trans-American adventures as I sipped a $10.00 vodka/tonic.  (The price gauging never ends!)  “I am INDEED officially a seasoned traveler now!” I congratulated myself pompously.  Oh, and to have a cushy two-day Hollywood job waiting for my arrival in Los Angeles at my favorite studio?  As I’d said to the Casting Agent regarding my return flight plans, “what could possibly go wrong?!?!”

“If you could all quickly take your seats, we’re hoping to meet our designated departure time within the next ten minutes” the Pilot announced over the loud speaker.
And smiling politely towards the gentleman to my left and the teenaged girl to my right, I attempted to snuggle awkwardly betwixt the two for our six(ish) hour flight.

Scuttling to procure overhead luggage, secure proper safety belts and prepare for take-off, a Flight Attendant approached the lady behind me to ensure that the happy-go-lucky child in the passenger’s lap would have to be safely buckled into its own seat prior to leaving the gate.
And cue the official beginning of Hell on Earth...

Clearly having never suffered any respiratory ailments, the pinkest lungs in the whole wide world whatever lived let loose with all manner of crying, shrieking and ear-drum bursting screaming, to the point where people three rows ahead of me stood up and looked around to see if perhaps a pig was being electrocuted on board.
Meanwhile, during the on-going tantrum from the Spawn of the Devil behind me, a Co-Pilot accidentally announced over the speaker to his Pilot that he was experiencing a technical difficulty of some sort which he was just about to explain, when suddenly the speakers were clicked off and a slew of flight attendants appeared to offer us all free ear buds for the in-flight televisions on the back of the seats.  (Hey, anything to drown out the “enfant terrible”!)

Twenty minutes or so later, we were next informed by the Pilot that all systems checks have been run and we should be good to go, just as soon as they rebooted the televisions which should only take five to ten minutes.  (No worries; my hard-working TiVo sometimes needs a restart too!)
With our TVs successfully booted up, I do believe that another half hour passed before the next announcement from our friendly Pilot:  “Hi there folks.  We at Jet Blue apologize for the inconvenience, but as we missed our scheduled departure time, we are now hopelessly stuck at the gate with a backlog of planes which have parked us in and we’re unfortunately unable at this time to be pushed out into the flow of traffic.  Again, we apologize for any inconvenience and we hope you’ll enjoy the complimentary bottles of water that our Flight Attendants will be providing you.”

Gratefully accepting my water and curious as to just when they might consider reaming me $7.00 for a pinkie-sized bottle of vodka, the stewardess smiled ever-so sweetly.  “We’ll be bringing the cart around just as soon as we take off!”  (NOT an answer, but what can you do when you’re a hostage?)
EVENTUALLY pushed out of the gate, the Pilot greeted us again over the speaker with well wishes to cross our fingers for a speedy take-off, only to inform us five minutes later that there were 30 to 40 planes ahead of us and he would need to shut down one engine to conserve fuel.

(Oh, FFS...)
Optimistically restarting the engine a half hour later (we boarded the flight at 5:40pm, and it was now 8:42pm) the Pilot once again came on the air to remind us that we all needed to remain in our seats, as he was unable to taxi the plane if we’re all lined up for the restrooms.  (Thanks for the free water, Jet Blue!  Brilliant!!!)

Last but not least, the Pilot greeted us once more with the info that as there appeared to be inclement weather in the Midwest, he would need to file a new flight plan which certainly shouldn’t take too much time; however if anyone needed to use their cell phones to contact other people, please feel free to do so.
And dialing the voicemail box of the Casting company, I must’ve listened to a fifteen minute pre-recorded dissertation of who I needed to call, what I needed to do, and how to properly notify whoever had hired me for what show, when, where, blah, blah, blah ad nauseum, until I finally heard the beep.  And leaving my name, my partial social security number and the show title, I mimicked the Jet Blue Pilot as I “apologized for any inconvenience” as I needed to be replaced on the sit-com and was hopelessly stuck on the tarmac at JFK with no hope whatsoever of ever seeing Los Angeles again!

Oh, I was OFFICIALLY losing my mind!  The people, the masses of PEOPLE who shared the aerodynamic tin can who pinned me in like a sardine in oil were all kicking off their shoes!  And apologizing to the teenager blocking my way to the aisle of semi-freedom, she barely deigned to move her legs as I awkwardly ambled over her. 
Uck, the stench of perfumes, colognes and FEET?  My KINGDOM for a menthol ciggy!

*Ding* “We would like to remind you that all domestic flights are designated as non-smoking.  Tampering with a smoke alarm in the restrooms is a Federal Crime punishable by law.” *Ding*
Quite frankly, still on the tarmac after three fucking hours, I was almost ready to risk it!

Approximately six and a half hours later (attempting to sleep chin on hand (which ultimately changed on-board TV channels as well as volume levels on the arm rest which bolted me awake)), as well as trying to nod off backwards (great if you’re neo-natal without any neck muscles), and eventually throwing my hoodie onto the tray table in a pillow-like fashion to fold myself over in an airplane crash formation, I think I banked a whopping ten minutes of slumber.

But despite the Flight from Hell, my spirit would not be broken!  And regardless of my anxiety over multiple connections as I initially travelled, I’ll never EVER again complain about the luxury of stretching my legs in between flight segments.  (Bring it on, Phoenix!)  And thanks to the nicest cab driver who actually wheeled my behemoth luggage up the hill, I was HOME!

Now if I may enjoy a Greta Garbo moment, please embrace with me the best ever door sign from the Jefferson Clinton Hotel in Syracuse, NY:

Delighted that my swollen “cankles” and sock ligature marks have finally faded from roughly ten hours of sitting on a plane, I’m ELATED to report that I've booked approximately three weeks of work!  (Not on the Kirstie Alley show, but hey, you take what the Universe gives you, and say "Thank you very much!")
For richer my friends, for richer!

~Blissfully no longer “the Passenger P”  J

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My Iliad: Part Two


“So you work in Hollywood!!!” the last two people that I dined with in Indiana (alongside my parents) full-on “Ethel Mertzed” me with stars in their eyes.  “We met Sean Connery once!” they informed me, as they had accidentally crossed a street on vacation where filming was occurring on location and were immediately hustled out of the camera shot by Security.  “Do you know Sean Connery?”
As I most unfortunately am NOT able to count said brilliant Scottish Actor amongst my list of friends, but as I could also understand their Midwest enthusiasm towards Tinsel Town, I spared them my Sean Connery impersonation, but rather attempted to entertain them with my limited Sit-Com abilities. 

After all, I’d spent the morning being crammed inside a cardboard box. 
Now, to say that my parents have a unique sense of humor would be to diminish the word “unique”.  (Many of you know my birth name – well, they’ve had 47 more years to hone their special craft.)  So I wasn’t particularly surprised when my Mom eventually nailed the “perfect” wedding gift for my friends RJ and Richard as they celebrated their upcoming nuptials in New York.

With “We respectfully request no gifts” printed on the limited invitations mailed for the ceremony by R and R, my parents (despite not being invited) still felt obligated out of sheer love to do something for my engaged friends to wish them their best!
Hence the cardboard box...

Whipping out a roll of white wedding wrapping paper and a large spool of ribbon, my Mom took to task to tape, cut, staple and arrange the Set Decorations for their matrimonial present.  And engaging my Dad as Director of Photography, Cameraman and Cinematographer, my Mom also tackled the Wardrobe Department as she selected a hand-crafted massive pink bow which she crammed into my ponytail holder, along with one cascading earring made of pearls.
And whilst I don’t know the exact sentiment verbatim, I do believe the gist of the photo and the card went something like this:  ‘The item we’re sending to you both is priceless; but shipping and handling cost us two grand to get her there (non-refundable).  Enjoy!’

(Did you think I was kidding?)

With an hour flight delay from Detroit MI to Syracuse NY, texting Richard with updates and whatnot as information was provided, I did my best to stifle my irritable desire for a dose of Nicotine.  And purchasing a $3.00 cupcake (really?) and another $4.00 bottle of water (seriously?) to pass the time, I settled in with the travelling masses for a bit of mind-numbing game play on my Kindle Fire HD.

What the...?

*boing, boing, boing*

*boing, boing, boing, boing, boing*

Fleeing like rats from a sinking ship, every well-seasoned traveler scurried from the aisle where we were seated as one obnoxious “gentleman” repeatedly bopped up and down, left and right like a crabby toddler; bouncing the entire row like a bully on a seesaw until all the littlest of patrons had been tossed off his fulcrum wherein he could properly spread out his luggage.
“You don’t scare me” I muttered under my breath, as my Kindle continued to “boing” out of my hands.

And as if hearing my bold challenge to maintain my seating at the airport in Detroit, The Thing kicked off its plastic Croc slip-on shoes to stretch its hairy toes...

Frankly, by the time I landed in Syracuse, I couldn’t get away from the public masses fast enough.  Call me a diva if you will, but if I had to suffer through one more minute of being whacked on the head by people who stuff their carry-ons to full capacity, clocked in the jaw by unwieldy lady’s bulging purses or bonked on the kneecap by a Flight Attendant’s trash bag, I would’ve completely lost my mind.

Collapsing into a welcoming hug from my friend RJ (who instinctively lit up a ciggy for me) and waving to his fiancé Richard (who cheerfully waved back as he stalked a prime loading spot in his convertible bat-mobile); all was right with the world.

Ahhh, the fresh air to obliterate the stink of airports out of my hair as we motored along!  Oh, the joy of companionship in a glamorous magazine-worthy loft that over-looked the city!  OOH!  And the VIP treatment of cocktails and marinated steaks cooked on the balcony!
Honestly, I couldn’t see how the next couple of days could even begin to top such an extravagant prelude...

Yet that is where I would be phenomenally mistaken!
With the arrival of RJ’s brother and sister-in-law, we found ourselves whisked away that evening to the Turning Stone Resort/Casino, wherein Richard checked me into the (to-be shared with my college friend “Rose”) Junior Suite; escorted me to the Diamond Card Service desk to assist in setting up my debit gaming account; and exhausted as he was with the onslaught of incoming relatives, even stayed with me for a bit to play some slot machines!  (I’d been told that Richard has AMAZING luck at gaming, but surely that was an urban myth, right?)

Meanwhile, as we were all left to our own devices to feed or gamble the following day, Rose and I smartly fed affordably at the Food Court, greeted RJ’s Dad “Papa John” (who, within twenty seconds asked if I was still unemployed – AWESOME!); piddled away a few bucks at the video poker machines, and with Rose heading up to the Suite for a nap, I ponied up next to RJ at a slot machine for assistance on the confusing control panel of buttons.
“You’re gonna want to play one coin, but twenty lines.  Trust me.”

And suddenly assailed by visuals of armored Knights with lances on horseback as the machine randomly spun ten free spins, I danced like a maniac as music played and 500 credits pling-pling-plinged into my account!!!
“What did I win?!  What did I win?!” I squealed, as the people behind me turned around to gape at my ostentatious behavior.

“Well, it’s only a nickel machine, so that would be $25.00” RJ laughed.

With a formal dinner pre-set for the 35 or so of us that evening on the 21st floor in the TS Steakhouse at 7:30pm, I was happy to receive a text from RJ and Richard, that should anyone care to join them, they would be having cocktails there in the bar at 6:15.  And taking turns for us all to ride up the elite elevator car; I’ll be darned if my $25.00 winnings were of no use...

“You’re a Guest of the ***/*** party” the Bartender explained to me.  “Belvedere is the Host’s chosen vodka of the evening, but you may have whatever you like!”
“Belvedere would be quite lovely, thank you” I smiled, wondering just what Rabbit Hole I’d fallen down, and how could I possibly stay there forever?

But not to be outdone by premium cocktails, our Primo Waiter Greg assisted in gathering us together into a large private room wherein a Staff of Assistants laid out menus of items, all specifically chosen by our Hosts.  Crab cakes, jumbo shrimp, Caesar salad, etc. adorned the appetizer section; a gazillion side dishes were offered; and eying the Entrée selection, I drooled over the thought of a Filet Mignon (12oz?  Seriously?), which on my BEST meat-eating day I’d never get through!  Oh, and then there were the desserts!  A crème broulee with seasonal berries?  A TEN LAYER slice of chocolate cake with gold edible shavings?  Not to mention the Vanilla Bean cheesecake poppers for everyone?
To be honest, I think I made it through a quarter of a salad (HUGE!), a tiny spoonful of most of the side dishes (any more would have been painful), and maybe a third of my magnificent pork chop on the bone with an apple jam marmalade.

“Here comes dessert!” Greg announced professionally as we all emitted a unanimous groan.
Oh, don’t get me wrong!  I still managed to devour my cheesecake popper, as well as a few bites of crème broulee and some chocolate cake (with GOLD!) before retiring to the blissfully empty “Cigar Room” for a ciggy with Rose and RJ; but quite frankly I never wanted to eat again!

And lounging like gluttonous Royalty in the leather high-back chair, I pawed at my purse to answer the tinkle of my cell phone – the caller ID shining brightly as “Casting”.
“Hi Penny, I was wondering if you might be available to Stand-in for two days on the new Kirstie Alley show this Monday.”

“I’d love to!” I replied.  “I’m actually in New York at the moment, but I should be back in Los Angeles Sunday night by 9pm.”
“Oh dear...  Are you sure you can make it?” the friendly Casting Agent wanted to know.

“What could possibly go wrong?” I assured her, taking down all of the necessary information as to my stage and call time.

As some of the senior family members had belly-full retired for the evening, and with only one night left to gamble in the Casino before the wedding the next morning, Rose and I ambled to a couple of old-style Vegas-type dollar slot machines with minimal simple wheels while RJ and Richard tried their luck with various other games. 
Still baffled by the complexities of twenty-line zigzag diagonal payouts, and getting comfy in a plushy upright chair with “Double Seven” theme, I was content to play with a small portion of my Indiana money as my chosen one-armed-bandit kept me interested with the occasional $20 or $40 reward.  In fact, it appeared that as long as my balance was near $100 on the gaming debit card (and not reeking of financial desperation), I could play all evening!

And so with a button push of three credits (show no fear!), the one-armed-bandit spun three wheels which landed precisely dead center on a double red seven, a double green seven and a matching double blue seven.  ($480.00!!!)
“That’s just elegant” a Casino Host magically appeared by my side.

“Yeah...” I agreed happily (on the verge of tears after an entire summer of unemployment!)
Yet as fat and wealthy as I felt in the moment, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather as my beloved friend Richard ceremoniously danced and shouted “Twenty Thousand Dollars!  Twenty Thousand Dollars!  I JUST WON TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!” as his ($25.00 per pull) one-armed-bandit machine lit up with all due bells and whistles!

And THAT, my friends, could not have been a more stellar cosmic “Congratulations!” wedding gift from The Universe!
Still working on writing Part Three of “My Iliad” as my pea-brain continues to explore life “outside of the box”,

~The On-going Passenger P
p.s. Next stops – The wedding, and home to LA!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

My Iliad: Part One

Having "Darwiningly" (my word) learned to adapt to my generally lowly status of crawling in and out of the Hollywood mud as necessary as a Stand-In; having also occasionally been elevated to Co-Star status wherein I could claw my way to a foothold on terra firma with a few speaking lines on a Network show that would pay my rent for a couple of months; and forever fluctuating somewhere between the muck and the glory, I was quite convinced that as long as I adopted the proper personae for all possible scenarios, this Hollywood Actress could blend in like a chameleon, anywhere, anyplace, anytime!
Casting myself in the glamorous role of "Seasoned Traveler", I wheeled the behemoth hard-cased luggage to the curb and summoned a taxi on my not-very-smart cell phone to service my needs as my presence had been requested half way across the country for a week, followed by an additional three day limited engagement on the East Coast.

"Oh, how effortless is all of this gadding about!" I reassured myself ala Katherine Hepburn.  "The calla lilies are in bloom!" I added for effect and reassurance.
Unfortunately, my digestive system was by NO MEANS buying into my classical performance... 

Scuttling off in the backseat of the cab to the airport, I made all manner of proper happy small talk for approximately three minutes with the driver.  And recasting myself as "Misunderstood Eccentric Genius Who Mumbles to Self Whilst Postulating String Theory and/or Tuck and Roll out of Said Taxi in Fight or Flight Instinct ", I was quite relieved to be left in silence for the rest of the ride.

Unfortunately, having relinquished my personal control issues to the Casting Director of The Universe who saw fit to bat me around mercilessly like a wounded mouse who can’t escape the torture of a playful vengeance-free kitty cat, any nuance of dignity I might’ve creatively mustered in the taxi was shortly shot to hell. 
Armed with a $4.00 bottle of Bob Hope Airport water and initially not particularly thrilled to have a gazillion (OK, three) flight connections* to Indiana, I found “in hindsight” (if you will) that as my digestive system continued to criticize my ability to play the triple threat roles of “Mumbling Eccentric” slash “Dehydrated Puddle” slash “Borderline Vomitus Dry Heaver”**, a few extra restroom stops weren’t such a bad idea after all! 

(*Note to readers – these connections included exiting security at one terminal in Phoenix, walking across a street outside in 110 degree heat to a shuttle that waved me to another stop, walking an additional 200 feet to reach said shuttle, only to be told by a separate driver that I needed to go BACK 200 feet and catch a DIFFERENT shuttle to another terminal, then metaphorically rise from the ashes wherein I would need to pad around germy security with more sweaty people clutching their sticky shoes whilst we all threw away our water bottles.)
(**Personal note to all of you lovely ladies with high end perfumes, handsome gentleman wearing Department Store cologne and all of you long-toe-nailed Hippie freaks in flip-flops who bathe in Patchouli:  FFS, save it for your destinations!  An airport may hold a cast of thousands, but you all gave me nausea and heart palpitations with your saturated “aromas”!)

But I digress!
Recast in a recurring role (which I’d not played in nearly eight years and at which I was feeling rather rusty), I found myself struggling with the complexities of “Dutiful Daughter Returning to the Family Fold”. 

Was it the overwhelming, unconditional biological love, comfort and nurturing from my parents that made me spit up my lasagna dinner like an infant that first night?  Was it the complicated integration of still feeling like a teenager despite their absolute willingness to accept me as the adult woman I’d become, that allowed me to reconcile my Dad’s paternal guidance to “stick with the alcohol” for my supper; as well as my Mom’s maternal advice to nurse a spoonful or two of creamy gelato for my tummy?
All I know is that boozily half in the bag 45 minutes later with gifts of cash in my purse somewhere in a town called Anderson; I won a $300 jackpot on a slot machine at the local casino!  (Hey, I was quite literally BORN for that role!)

With less than a week remaining to meet up with ALL of my extended family, I was grateful that my Mom had chosen to split up the parties into smaller groups over the course of the next few days.  Yay!  Easy peasy! 

“So this afternoon there will just be the eleven of us.”  (Aw, C’MON!)
Now, whilst I had no official contract designating a change in title of my role as “Dutiful Daughter” during my stay, the further my parents mapped out my lengthy itinerary, the more noticeable the credits on the marquee were changing...

Sure the gathering of family at my sister’s house for home-cooked food and burgers (Whaaat?!?!) on the grill could NOT have been more delightful!  We feasted!  We socialized!  We watched my young nephews swimming in the pond out back! 
I even endured the proper amount of family terror as my sister fed the masses of cold-blooded vertebrates in said pond, whilst prehistoric enormous catfish (with whiskers longer than my deceased heroic feline sidekick Pretty!) thrashed and gulped at the kibble.  (EEK!) 

I even managed to remain moderately calm (well, MAYBE I jumped out of my skin every single time) as my kinfolk headed across the reeds to fire arsenals of bullets out of guns and rifles at empty milk containers.  (Dear Lord, where were the police and the helicopters?!)
But despite a bit of stage fright at reacquainting myself with my relatives and getting back to my roots, I must say that my sister made me feel ever so welcome in her home.  And any further trepidation that I may have experienced was startlingly dissuaded by the immediate love and affection from my lumbering “cousin” Henry.

I’d heard in advance that Henry possessed the best disposition when greeting new members of his extended family, but what I hadn’t counted on was the fact that as a Rhodesian ridgeback dog (mix), I was apparently a psychedelic festival of unusual and exotic smells.  (Thanks a lot, stinky airport Hippies!)
And sniffed front to back, head to toe, ass to armpits and having even received a buried face in my ponytail when I sat down on my nephew’s floor to watch video games, I was officially wet-nosed dubbed as “friend” wherein I was quite regally presented with a tail-wagging butt and a most auspicious gift of a slobber-covered soiled “white” sock with a hole chewed through it.

(Oh, would that ALL critics be so kind!)

Frankly, as exhausted I was from air travel, casino winnings (and maybe a smidgeon more of bewhiskered fish and live ammunition than I’m generally comfortable with), I admit that I was looking forward to some solitary time in the bat cave that evening. 
But as I was staying in Ft. Wayne Indiana, I’d have to “make do” with the posh, ritzy accommodations at “Wayne Manor”, aka “The Fortress” with the moat out back (I kid you not!).

“Here’s the key to get out if you want to smoke a cigarette on the screened-in patio:  this is the PIN to completely disarm the alarm so the doors won’t beep, and here’s the code to reset the security when you’re done” my parents explained ever-so-patiently before wearily heading off to bed.

The silence.  The single croak of a baritone bullfrog guarding the moat.  A time to write, to ponder, to muse, to unwind, to relax all by myself for a few hours.  In the silence.  The unnerving silence.  The DEAFENINGLY LOUD, ABSOLUTE SILENCE. 
Oh, for the love of God, I needed a cocktail and a ciggy!  And clicking on the portable radio that my Dad had set up in my bedroom as “comfort noise” for when I returned inside, I ambled through the dark mansion in search of the least noisy retreat.

Easily remembering the codes (as they pertained to my childhood), I unlocked a side door and slipped casually into the welcome solitude of the dark night; a lone nocturnal soul; an evening spot light beaming down from the rooftop over the threshold – a subtle one woman play for the smattering audience of care-free fireflies and a single seemingly forlorn bullfrog.

Frozen like a bug-eyed possum caught in a car’s headlights at 3am with a lit cigarette in my paw whilst my Dad deftly disabled the All Points Bulletin, I couldn’t have been more mortified...

“Well, at least we know the alarm works!” he laughed.

Now, as I mentioned earlier (and as I reconnected with more and more of my relatives), I could feel my role as “Dutiful Daughter” slowly (and not so subtly) being rewritten...

Granted, I’d been trotted around like the “Prize Hog at the County Fair” for my hypercritical Great Aunt (who’s blissfully developed the attention span of a gnat), as well as her creepy, lecherous used-car dealer boyfriend (who hugged, kissed and slobbered almost as much as my lumbering canine “cousin” Henry); but my Producers (aka my Parents) eventually let on that I would be facing yet one more rather extremely important “screen test”...
“We just LOVE your sister’s “new” husband (of three years) who had to work during the bar-be-que” my Producers beamed.  “In fact, if they ever get divorced, we’re keeping HIM!” they agreed emphatically as they extolled his magnanimous virtues.

(Hey!  No pressure there for me to perform well!)

With one whole day and evening to hang out with a couple of friends that I’ve known for most of my life, I wasn’t at all surprised at how effortlessly we reconnected.  Our worlds had changed to be sure, but our friendship never lost a beat.  We were teenagers again!  We were stupid and perfect!  And after a cocktail at “Dicky’s Wild Hare” (again, I kid you not), by 10:30pm we were all ready to go home and get some sleep!

As to my vital “screen test” however, I do believe I passed with flying colors.
Despite 20 years of complete and continued sobriety, the best brother-in-law (in the whole wide world whatever lived!!!) stopped at a liquor store after our final family dinner to purchase a special gift just for me. 

And handing me the brown baggie containing a glass bottle of Ketel One vodka to tide me over for my last two evenings in The Fortress, I felt like I’d won an Oscar! 
(No offense to Henry, but that was waaay better than a slobbery sock!)

Positively overwhelmed with love and gratitude for my family and friends,
~I am the Passenger P

p.s. Next stop – New York!