Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I reject fear and all that it means.
I embrace laughter and lightness and living in the warmth of the sun.
With all the years I have left, I commit to brushing away the shadows
For as long as the good Lord allows me.

My wants are simple
A cozy room to write in
A shining view from my window
A place to swim during summer
Laughter and games
A good story to tell
A companion to tell my life story with

Lord, grant me the strength to see this destiny through
Give me the clarity of vision to make it happen
Give me a chance or two to take advantage of
And above all, keep the fears at bay, keep the fears away
Make regret a thing of the past.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pieces of Tartan (Part Six): Method Acting

Backstage at the Institute. Yes, that's THE costume.

About five years ago, I started a series of stories devoted to a month I spent in Scotland participating in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, back when I was young and had a full head of hair. I passed the time with a group of actors from Trinity, including future Tony/Oscar-award winning actress Viola Davis.

The composition book I used as my journal, which is the source for these stories, has been sitting on my desk for the past two years, waiting for me to open it up and tell the next chapter.

"Please come see our show.”

The man standing in front of me stared down dubiously at the flyer I had handed him. He swept a meaty paw through what was left of his thinning hair and frowned. “I’m not sure I really want to see your show, son.”

“Oh, please see it!” I said, trying hard not to let my desperation show, and fully aware of the fact that the small theater inside was completely empty. “It’s a great show. You’ll love it. Really, you will. I promise.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s called Crises in the Garden and Xantippe’s Lament. It has actors from Rhode Island!”

The man stared at me as if I had two heads. Then, he started walking away.

“Please!” But the man kept on walking. Desperately, I turned around to assault the first person in my path, an older woman with gray hair and sensible shoes. “Please come see our show,” I whined, hoping the pathetic desperate state I was in would somehow charm this poor woman into submission.

She glanced at the flyer. “What’s it about?”

I kept in mind my last conversation, and tried hard to avoid the words “Xantippe” and “Rhode Island” at all costs. “Oh, these are two great one act plays. You’ll just love them! Some of the best one act plays ever written. And really, when you get right down to it, who doesn’t love one act plays? They’ve got incredible, award-winning actors in them, too. One play’s about Adam and Eve. They wear flesh colored clothes and everything!”

“Oh.” The old lady seemed to take pity on me, for a minute. Then, her face hardened.

“I don’t know, I have a sick friend to tend to…”

I looked down nervously at my watch. Five minutes until opening. Time to unleash the floodgates. “Oh, please! You don’t know the miserable night I’ve had. My boss—the director of this play—found out at 8:30 that the theater didn’t have the tickets here, so he asked me to pick them up at the Assembly Room, but when I went to the Assembly Room and I learned that they closed the Room at six, so I had to beg and plead to get them to open up, you know? And I got them to, but when they did, I learned that the tickets weren’t there, so I raced down to the Main Office…and got lost, may I add, really lost!...only to find out at 9:35 that Aleister—oh, he’s our contact here, really funny guy. Played Song for Guy on the piano the first night we were here, can you believe it? Because that’s one of my favorite songs and I was just listening to it on the plane ride to Scotland. Anyway, somehow I managed to find Aleister and I raced back here to the French Institut, only now it’s ten minutes before the play’s going to open and they tell me no one’s in the theater even though we tried to pass out a lot of flyers this morning, only my boss doesn’t think I really tried hard enough, and if I don’t get someone in that theater soon…well…anyway, would you please like to see our show?”

I think by this point the lady was a little bit afraid of me. Her face turned a paler shade of white, which was pretty hard to do in Scotland. “How…how much are the tickets?”

“It’s a bargain,” I said. “And I’ll let you in at half price.”


Earlier that evening, I had been doing a line through with Doug and Missa, the stars of In the Garden.

“I hate these clothes,” complained Missa in the middle of one of her lines. Our well-endowed Eve made a face and picked at the hem of her flesh-colored leotard.
“Me too,” said Doug, our Adam, brushing back his long flowing red hair dramatically.

“They’re so freaking cutesy. I hate cutsey.”

“I wish there was something we could do to kill the cute,” said Missa, tossing her script to one side.

Doug thought for a moment. “Hey, maybe there is.” A dramatic pause. Doug was quite fond of dramatic pauses. Also, hair flips. “Your character spends a lot of time wandering around the garden discovering things, right? Naming them?”

“Sure does,” giggled Missa. “Half the play.”

“Maybe that’s the problem with our costumes, then.”

“What do you mean?”

Doug started to bounce up and down, which was about as out of control as he ever allowed himself to get. “They’re too clean! She’s wandering through the garden, Missa! Climbing mountains, scrambling through mud. Lifting up rocks and naming insects. Would you be all clean and cute if you were doing stuff like that?” He shook his auburn locks again. “I think not.” A finger point. “You’d be dirty, right? So would I, too. So how can we make our costumes look dirty?”

“Ummmm…look around for a mud puddle?”

Doug grimaced. Clearly not the correct answer. “Well, we could do that…but that would take too much work, I think. Ted, you think you could scare up a garden hose?”

I decided to ignore this ridiculous request.

A moment. Then, an idea! This was ACTING! Doug snapped his fingers. “Hey! If we can’t get ourselves to a mud puddle, why not make a mud puddle can come to us!”

Missa looked at him, strangely. “Even I don’t know you what you mean by that one, Doug…”

“Missa, you know that god-awful coffee that Margot made this morning? Tasted like crap, didn’t it? Do you think the grounds are still in the coffee maker?” Doug’s eyes grew wide, his smile broad. The sociopath lurking underneath the surface was finding its way out…in a controlled way, of course. “I think we can put those grounds to good use. Don’t you?”


One minute before opening. I stood by Doc, nervously playing with his program in the back of the theater. “Well, the tickets are all her and we’ve got…um, one person in the audience.”

Doc stared at me, clearly unhappy.

I tried to think of something positive to say. “But she’s really excited to see the play, Doc! She says she hasn’t, um, seen any Adam and Eve plays at all this year.”

Somehow, that didn't do much to lift his spirits. “Well, it’s about to get underway,” he said, resigned. “We’ll just think of this as a dress rehearsal for tomorrow night.”

“The lights are lowering in the theater,” I said. “The stage lights are going up. And look, here’s Doug going on to the stage, making his—”

I watched as his face went from resignation to frustration, as his jaw tensed and he made the realization that—

“What’s that all over his costume?” Doc asked, carefully.

Oh! Oh, dear. Looks as if Doug and Missa neglected to him that—“Um, well, funny story, that. Um, coffee grounds.”

Doc squinted his eyes tightly. “Coffee grounds?”

I stepped back, afraid that this former man of the cloth might finally come unhinged.

“Yeah, well…see, they decided the clothes were too cute for their characters. Needed to be a little dirtier. So they decided to smear…um, coffee grounds all over…”

“Too…cute?” Doc squeezed my hand, tightly. I gasped, stopped talking. After a second or two, his grip relaxed.

Almost in slow motion, Doc walked away from me, to take a seat in the empty theater.I don’t remember much of the play after that.


Three o’clock in the morning. In the flat. Laughing hysterically—Doug, Missa, our stage manager Rio, and Viola.

“It’s perfect!” Missa shrieks, sitting cross-legged on the ratty green couch that took up half the living room. I’m on the piano stool across from her, ignoring the annoying temptation to test out the upright.

Doug’s laughing, loudly, sitting next to her. “He’d believe it, too, you know.”

Viola nods. “Sure he would. With that much crazy, it’d be hard not to believe it.”

A wild gleam in Doug’s eye. “It’s decided. We blame it all on Tallulah! Tell Bill she was the one behind it all, that she was still angry about the parade. Felt we made Queenie look bad. And nooooooobody makes Queenie look bad.”

Missa’s laughing so hard she’s having trouble speaking. “So…so…she wanted revenge. She waits until we’re…we’re about to go onstage…”

“And then…and then she throws coffee grounds at us! Wet, sticky coffee grounds.” Doug looks off into the distance, imagining the scene. “I’d have to play it really serious. Look him straight in the eye. ‘She’s not well, Bill. She’s coming unglued! I’m scared.’”

Missa wipes at her eyes. “Queenie made me cry…”

“You know, maybe we should have had the courtesy to tell him,” says Doug, abruptly. Missa grabs him arm. “We have to say SOMETHING to him, Doug. He’s not speaking to us right now!”

“He wouldn’t even congratulate us after our stellar performance in front of…what was the audience count, Ted?”

“One old lady.” I reply, insanely proud of my dubious achievement.

“One little old lady,” repeated Doug. “But that little old lady got the best we had to offer! Although maybe I shouldn’t improvised and said you had a nice butt, Missa. I mean, you do, but I’m not sure Doc liked that one, either…”

“I just feel bad,” said Rio, sitting cross-legged on the armchair. Like every good stage manager, she was fond of putting the weight of the world…well, at least the world that had been created…on her shoulders. “I should have warned him about it. I gave you the green light, after all.”

Doug sweeps that away with a sweep of his arm. “Don’t worry, Rio! It’s all Queenie’s fault. That’s what you get for letting unstable character actresses take a flight to—”

Suddenly, there’s a loud noise outside the door to our flat. We all stop talking, immediately.

The doorknob twists around. From outside, we hear the rattling of keys. Missa looks around at all of us, wide eyed. “Who the hell would be trying to get in at three in the—”

“Shhhhh!” whispers Doug.A key into the doorknob. It doesn’t fit. The rattling of keys again. Then, a weird scraping sound. I hold my breath. Then the sound of footsteps, moving down the hall.

The room is deadly silent. We all sit there, staring at each other.

“What in the hell was that?” Rio asks, slightly freaked.

Missa stares at her, deadly serious. “It’s Tallulah, Rio. Sharpening her knives.
Queenie’s going to GET US BACK!”

The flat erupts into a wave of laughter. Missa holds her side, unable to breathe.

I turn to Viola, who’s sitting with her back against the couch and staring down into her coffee cup. “You okay? You’ve been quiet all night.”

“I miss A.,” she says softly, talking about her boyfriend back home. “It’s only been five days away, but it feels like forever.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Pieces of Tartan (Part Five): Corn Starch and Mother's Milk

Me at 23, at a very special men's club in Scotland. Or so I was led to believe...

About three years ago, I started a series of stories devoted to a month I spent in Scotland participating in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, back when I was young and had a full head of hair. I passed the time with a group of actors from Trinity, including future Tony-award winning actress Viola Davis.

The composition book I used as my journal, which is the source for these stories, has been sitting on my desk for the past three years, waiting for me to open it up and tell the next chapter.

Monday, August 14, 1989

"We can't get lost, Doug," I said, as we wandered through the windy and narrow streets of Edinburgh. "I want to see the dancers roll around naked in corn starch!"

One thing you had to give the Fringe Festival, there was no end of interesting theater to be found, in small theaters and auditoriums scattered on each and every block. The night before we had seen "Hanging the President," a powerful Anti-Apartheid piece about two convicts sentenced to die in a South African jail, which featured (and I'm quoting from my journal for this one) "graphic nudity and lots of homosexuality." Egad!

One guy actually shit in a bowl onstage! I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. Actually shitting onstage. What guts that must have taken.

As for the nudity, Viola complained that the naked men all had tiny dicks, and the only man she was actually interested in never took anything off. Good to see I wasn't the only size queen in the audience.

Tonight's theater adventure didn't sound as cutting edge, but it did sound entertaining.

It's not every night you get to see people rolling around naked in corn starch, after all.

The play was called Other Worlds, by a group called Abiogenesis.

By the time we made it through the Edinburgh maze, the show had already started, although we had only missed about five minutes.

Our group was sitting in the front row of the small theater. I moved past Vi to sit next to Missa. She had a really strange look on her face, as if she were about to give birth or something. "Is everything okay?" I asked.

She looked over at me, with large brown eyes that glistened, as if she were on the verge of tears. "Why?" she asked, and she had trouble getting even that out.

"You look like you're about to cry."

"I am."


She pointed to the stage, her chest heaving back and forth, involuntarily. "Watch," she managed to say.

Was the show that intense? I didn't think anything could have surpassed "Hanging the President." Crapping in a steel bowl, after all! How can you top that? I turned my head to the stage. I watched.

The lady on the stage stood alone. She was a small, bird-like creature, dressed in a purple leotard. She spoke in a weird monotone, every syllable over-articulated, as if she was a stroke victim. In the background, unearthly space music played.

"Time," she said, pointing to a large watch on her hand. "Moves on..." She moved one step toward the front of the stage. "As the pop-u-lation..." She moved her hand to her belly, mimicking pregnancy. "Pro-gresses..." Then, one huge step toward the audience.

"Through e-vo-loo-tion."
Oh. My. God.

Suddenly I understood why Missa was looking the way she was.

What's the worst piece of theater you've ever seen? Take that and multiply it times two.

This was definitely the worst, for me. I mean, it was laugh-out-loud bad, and the worst thing was, we couldn't even laugh, because we were sitting in the front row, with all eyes on us. So we had to keep it all in. By the end of the first act, my eyes were watering, too. I was laughing so hard inside that it had to come out, somehow.

"And also, they're incredibly rude," complained the director of another Edinburgh production, "Is Their Life After High School," during intermission. "My kids had to stand in front of them in the parade yesterday. We spent hours decorating our float! You know what they did? They walked down the street and made weird barking noises at the crowd. Weird barking noises! Can you imagine a worse group to put in a parade?"

I thought about our parade entry, which had been even more half-baked. At least they had a method to their madness. Our banner had been made up of curtains we had taken from the flat we were staying in, wrapped around a broom handle, with the name of our group spelled out in glow-in-the-dark duct tape. Our straggly bunch had included a man in a toga and a lady in a giant ape costume.

"No, I can't possibly think of a worse group," I lied.

"Act Two's about to start," said Missa. "This is the one with the corn starch!"

"I can't wait!" I said, and turned to Vi. "Try to stay awake this time, would you?" Viola had fallen asleep during Act One.

"I can't promise ANYTHING," said Viola.


"What a rip-off," I complained at the Scots Club, later that night. "Just a couple of saggy boobs covered in corn starch. Everyone ended up looking like shake and bake."

"The scene after that was the worst," said Missa.

"What was it?" asked Margot, our Shakespearean-trained thespian, who had had, by all accounts, spent a "lovely" evening at the theater.

"It was set in the future," said Missa. "The dancers were supposed to be androids. They used clothes dryer tubes for robot arms."

"Honestly, they looked like the Robot in Lost in Space," said Doug, nursing a Brandy Alexander. "I expected them at any moment to start calling out, 'Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!'"

"How was the audience for your show, tonight?" I politely asked Talullah, our resident prima donna without an ounce of prima in her. She had been performing that night at our theater at the French Institute, as Queenie. Think "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" on anti-depressants.

She pursed her lips. "Small. Appreciative."

Margot raised her hand up, behind Tallulah's back. Held up three fingers.

"Oh, look who's here!" said Missa, pointing to the table next to us. It was Aleister, who was the adorable young assistant of Harold, the festival organizer. 22, blond hair, blue eyes, the gift of gab like you've never seen.

"Rhodeislanders!" Aleister announced, staggering toward us. "Howya all doing tonight?"

"How are you, Al?" asked Margot.

"Do better with another drink in my hand," he said, and lurched toward Tallulah, who sniffed and turned away from him.

"I'll be happy to get you a drink, Aleister," said Margot, standing up to move to the bar and accommodate him.
"Mmm, I bet you would. Wanna go somehere else?" Aleister asked. "I kin show you around the town."

"Whereabouts?" asked Missa. "What would be fun?"

"Dunno," said Alesiter. "How about Chapp's?"

"Where's Chapp's?" Missa asked.

"Jist round the corner," he said, and winked at me. "A very special kind of men's club."
Missa looked at him shrewdly. "How special?"

Aleister grinned. "It's a nice gay bar. Wouldn't that be fun?"

"Oh no," said Tallulah, turning around to glare at Aleister. "Certainly not that!"

"Why not?" asked Aleister, clearly enjoying offending her. "What else do you want? Well, we could get ourselves into a bit of a gang bang, then, eh?" He asked innocently, before moving his head down to nibble at Talullah's neck.

"Young man!" said Tallulah, pushing Aleister away from her neck. "I'm old enough be your mother!"

"How bout it, mum?" Aleister said seductively, moving to take another nibble at her.

 Tallulah screamed in horror and started whacking at him with her purse.

"Calm down, boy," said Margot, smoothly placing a beer down in front of him. That got his attention. "Come over here and put your talents to some real use."

Missa and I looked at each other and raised our eyebrows. This might actually turn out to be a better show than Abiogenesis. 

And it was. We all went back to the flat. From what the ladies said later, Aleister was really, really good at back massages.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pieces of Tartan (Part Four): Parade of Fools

Check out the wayyyy coooool jean jacket! I tell you, was I the height of fashion back in the eighties, or what? NOTE: "Or what" is a perfectly acceptable answer.

Sunday, August 12, 1989
Today was a total disaster, from start to finish.

It started out with one of my first actual assignments in Scotland as “assistant producer.” Bill was stuck with opening all the trunks that had finally arrived from the States, containing the costumes and props for the show. It was a time-consuming task, so he instructed me to get thee to the Performer’s Center at eight in the morning, and attend a conference held by the Parade Committee, to “educate” all of the groups that were appearing in the Festival regarding what the parade would consist of.

“Educate”...what a joke. What that basically meant is that I spent half an hour standing around with a bunch of similarly-clueless gophers.

To my right, I stood next to a girl from a punk rock group that’s performing in a play about Ophelia. I think it was called "Something about Ophelia." To my left, there are two girls from an American high school troupe performing a play called “Is There Life After High School?”

After the first fifteen minutes, an 18-year-old guy came over, whispered to the two girls next to me, and then left. So did they.

The punk rocker turned to me. “Are you waiting for the parade committee?” she asked, chewing gum, her dark eyes surrounded by eye liner. I resisted the impulse to give a snappy answer to a stupid question.

“Sure am,” I said.

“It’s almost been an hour,” she said.

“I know,” I replied. “Maybe we should look around for Happy Harold?”

And so, the two of us start to comb through the crowd. We finally spotted Harold standing by the front of the building, his nose stuck in a clipboard. We walked right up and asked him about the Parade Committee.

He looked up from his clipboard and pushed his glasses up to his face. “Oh, didn’t you talk to my Parade assistant?” he asked.

We shook our heads. He scratched his thinning hair and looked around. “Oh, there he is!” he said, and pointed to the 18-year-old boy who had been so eager to assist the two girls from “Is There Life After High School?” Apparently, there certainly was...

Hal signaled for the kid to come over, and he ambled toward us, reluctantly. “Be a good chap and tell these people what they’re expected to do for the parade, would you?” asked Harold, and then ambled off.

The kid sighed, having been forced to actually DO HIS JOB. “Here’s the deal,” he said. “Get your group to meet at 10 o’clock. They'll need to decorate their float for a 2:00 take off.”

“Wait a minute,” said my punk rock friend. “A float?”

“Yeah. Or whatever you can put together, yeah,” said the kid, as though we should have known about putting together a float, and were idiots for not knowing.

“But what kind of float?” I asked, trying not to panic.

“Up to you, mate,” he said. “But Harold wants you to dress up as fifties greasers. Says the theme is, ‘Happy Days.’”

Ophelia looked as though her gum had turned to barbed wire. “Ummmm…I don’t think my actors are going to understand Happy Days...”

“Even by Samuel Beckett?” I asked. Ophelia looked at me as though I had two heads.

“Well, can we at least promote our show with flyers?” I asked. “No one’s going to know who we are if we’re dressed as greasers.”

“No flyers,” says the kid, firmly. “We don’t want people passing out paper everywhere.”

Glumly, I trudged back to the flat, to bring the news of the parade to my friends. I knew that it’s not going to be met with much enthusiasm.


“Happy Days?” asked Doug, as I gathered everyone together in the living room—everyone, that is, except for Doc and Jeri, who were nowhere to be found. Doug raised left eyebrow, amused by the thought. “Are you sure you heard correctly?”

“Yes,” I said. “Positive. Fifties greasers. That's what I was told.”

There was a collective groan out of everyone. Everyone, that is, except...Miss Tallulah.

“Yes, greasers!” she said. “This will be fun! Doug, you can be the Fonz.”

Doug fixed her with a look. “And Tallulah dear, you can be Pinky Tuscadero. No, I don’t think I’ll be playing the Fonz. Alas, I left my leather jacket back in Providence.”

“Well, hmmm...” said Tallulah, playing with the top of her upper lip. “Hmmm...well, maybe we could just show up in costumes from our show! That might be a good idea, don’t you think?”

Doug snorted. “Tallulah, I play Adam from the Bible and Socrates. Either way I’ll be a bit overexposed, don’t you think?”

Melissa shrugged. “Well, that might sell some tickets...”

Doug stared down, less than innocently, at her pendulous breasts. “Only if you dress as Eve, and show off your apples.” She let out a snort, and the two of them burst into laughter.

“Well, you don’t have to wear your skintight outfit,” says Tallulah, still scheming. “But you could wear your toga!”

Reo cleared her throat. “Tallulah, don’t you think we should wait until Doc gets here, to make these decisions?”

“Why wait?” Tallulah said, imperiously. “This whole event has been entirely too disorganized, if you ask me. We need to strike while the iron’s hot! We need to show the world the BEST that Rhode Island has to offer! So, Doug, you’ll wear your toga...and...and...maybe a silly hat...I’m certain we have some silly hats in the costume trunk...”

“No, I won’t be wearing any silly hat,” Doug said, firmly, flipping back his long red hair. “But I’ll be happy to march in the parade, to support the show. See you at two!” And with that, he got up and left the room. Melissa followed closely behind him, before she was told to wear the funny hat.

Tallulah looked as though she had been slapped across the face. “Those two are pimples,” she hissed, after they had left the room. Somehow, she had suddenly forgotten the fact that Melissa held her hand all the away across the Atlantic. “Pimples! What do you think, Margot?” she asked, turning to her fellow thespian from Trinity.

Margot had so far kept a distance from the conversation, but was now forced to jump in head first. “Well, of course. I’d be happy to appear in costume...although as a character from the play, not as a...” And she shuddered. “Greaser. Maybe something from our play, ‘Ape God’?”

“And we need a banner!” shouted Tallulah, totally out of nowhere, shooting an arm up into the air like a rocket. Suddenly, she turned upon Viola and myself, almost childlike. “You two...we need your help...we need to promote our little troupe! I want both of you to work like the dickens and put together a banner for us! Something wonderful and eye-catching!”

Viola and I looked at each other. “With what?”

Tallulah waved us away. “I’m sure you’ll think of something." Her mind had moved on to another subject. "And I...I shall dress in the regal persona of Queenie! The audience will love it. Only...” she looked aggravated. “I left my costume in the shipment box. Reo, will you be a dear and escort me back to the Center, to fetch my outfit, and perhaps a funny hat for Douglas?”

And with that, Tallulah dragged Reo, our stage manager and the only one of us with any real technical expertise, off, to “fetch” a costume. That left Viola, Margot, and I all alone, saddled with the task of making...

“A banner,” I said.

“What in the hell can we make a banner with?” asked Viola, glumly.

“Well, there is a broom in the kitchen,” suggested Margot. “We could use that.”

“That, and what else?” I asked.

“Reo’s the stage manager,” said Vi. “You think she has anything in her suitcase?”


Reo stood before Viola and myself, at the start of the parade route, staring at our banner as though she were a priest and it was a pagan idol. “You used up all my duct tape,” she said, gritting her teeth.

“Not all,” I said, trying desperately to avoid having my head ripped off. “Only that cool green tape. You still have a lot of other duct tape left.”

“The ‘cool green tape,’ huh?” she said, her eyes becoming tiny slits. “You mean, my glow tape. Do you know how much that shit cost me?”

We heard a voice behind us. I flinched, recognizing the voice instantly.

“Oh, what a LOVELY day for a parade!”

Viola and I turned around to face Tallulah, as Reo moved past us, muttering furiously under her breath.

As promised, Tallulah was dressed as Queenie. Apparently, Queenie was a bizarre woman from the Old South wearing a moth-eaten blue petticoat. All she needed was a price tag hanging from her matching blue hat and she could have been the Confederacy’s answer to Minnie Pearl. “What do you think?” she asked, bowing low.

“Quite nice!” I lied. “And what do you, er, think of our banner?” The minute I said it, I felt Viola hit me in the side, as if to say, ‘don’t call attention to it.’

Tallulah looked at our banner, and instantly, her smile started to drop a few notches. “Oh. I see you used a broom handle.”

“Well, we used what we had,” I said.

“Very true,” she said. “But couldn’t you have removed the BROOM from the handle, at the very least?”

“Well, we couldn’t get it to come off,” said Viola, “And we didn't want to break the broom in half. We didn’t want to get the owner of the flat mad at us.”

“But didn’t you staple his bedsheets to the broom?” asked Tallulah. “He might not take kindly to THAT.”

“We wanted something pretty,” I said. “Something that looked good with the glow tape.”

WHAM! I looked over, and saw Reo, over by the sidewalk, slamming her foot against the curb and cursing to herself.

As I moved my eyes away from Reo, I saw Doc approaching us, dressed as Thomas Jefferson, accompanied by Margot. Or at least, I assumed it was Margot.

She was dressed as a giant black ape.

Suddenly, the absurdity of the entire situation started to hit me. It was all I could do to maintain control. Here we were, one highly dysfunctional acting troupe, ready to go out and, in Tallulah's words, show to the world the best that Rhode Island had to offer.

Apparently, the best that Rhode Island had to offer consisted of Thomas Jefferson, Socrates, a crazy Southern belle, and a giant hairy ape, all marching behind a banner constructed of a broom (dust balls and all), bedsheets, and glowing duct tape.

No wonder we were the smallest state in the union.

To make matters worse, Melissa, Viola and I manage to get lost from the others, and ended up watching the parade from the sidelines.

Well, at least we stood next to Emo Phillips. That was pretty cool.


“No flyers,” said Doc, later in the evening, after the parade was but a distant memory and our last rehearsal had ended. We were back at our favorite dingy Italian restaurant, just the two of us and Reo. “Everyone else had flyers, except us.”

“Well, we were told not to bring flyers,” I said.

“Wouldn’t matter,” he said, gulping down a glass of ale. “We don’t have flyers, anyway, do we?”

“No duct tape, now, either...” grumbled Reo.

“I swear, this was deliberate,” said Doc. “They’re trying to sabotage us!”

”Oh, Doc, I don’t think they’re trying to,” I protested. “I mean, why would you think that?”

“Listen, the show’s opening night tomorrow,” said Reo, putting a hand on Doc’s shoulders. Even stripped of her beloved duct tape, she took control of the situation, as a good stage manager should. “We’re going to do just fine. Don’t let this get you down. No one’s trying to sabotage anything. But I suggest we get to sleep and get ready for tomorrow.”

“Doc, if you’d like,” I said. “I can take care of flyers, for you.”

“Good man,” said Doc. “You’re elected.”

“Do we know how big an audience we have?” I asked.

“Oh,” said Doc, cheering up at the thought of opening night. “I’m certain it will be small...but appreciative.”

Monday, August 14, 1989

Three people showed up for opening night. The audience count included Jeri.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Pieces of Tartan (Part Three): Bobby and Booze

Friday, August 11, 1989 I slept until noon today, and I’m a little sad that I missed out on the action. We were invited to a tour of Edinburgh, but only Doug and Margot actually went. They lorded it over the rest of us by going on and on for HOURS about the story of "Greyfriars Bobby" using a dreadful Scottish accent.

For the rest of the day, one of them would find a way to the words "Greyfriars Bobby" into the conversation, just to get the other laughing. The emphasis was always on the last word, too, with the "y" cut off so that the word came out more like "boe-beh."

"Greyfriars Boe-beh," Doug would say, and Margot would hold her hands over her mouth, giggling like a schoolgirl.

"Greyfriars Boe-beh," Margot would say, with her husky voice, and Doug would let out a bark.

The rest of us all laughed. The first time.

I am firmly convinced that had poor little Bobby been in our flat this afternoon, this loyal, faithful pooch would have turned rabid. Surely he would have turned on all of us, having been driven insane by hearing his name taken in vain so often.

The place is beautiful, although the weather is off–alternately sunny and rainy. The building that we are living in is ancient. The steps outside our building are time-wornand currently being repaired. Our flat is beyond description, although the term bomb shelter comes close, I think.

Today is Viola’s birthday, so we made a big production out of that. Actually, during the day, Viola didn’t make a big production out of much of anything–she just stayed in the flat, with Melissa and me. We ransacked the living room and discovered a money chest under the piano.

Gleefully, the three of us filled our pockets with coins. No need to convert our dollars, now! Vi and Missa took the most, though. I felt a little guilty about the whole thing, honestly. I guess in a way, I felt like I was stealing from my twin.

We spent a lot of time taking a sex quiz. I received an 8, although I wasn’t completely honest about certain questions, like the homosexuality one. Vi received a 6 and Missa received a 4. Doug actually scored the highest, with a 16, although I noticed that he was a bit hesistant on the homosexuality question, too. He might be, though. There’s just something about him that tells me he plays for the other side.

We celebrated Vi’s birthday with Indian food–her choice. The food was hot and the conversation was interesting, and the combination made my head spin.

Saturday, August 12, 1989

Had our first rehearsal for Shadows of Time at the Institut Francais. The performance space is much smaller than our theater at Rhode Island College, but has a great deal more charm.

After rehearsal, Doc, Tallulah, and I went to an Italian restaurant for some late supper. The drunks were out in force and the service was terrible, but it was the only place on the street that stayed open until two in the morning.

But then again, I love watching drunks, as long as it’s from a distance. There was one girl, named Suzy, who was sitting at the table next to us, and was totally wasted.

"I didn’t order lasgana!" she kept yelling at the waiter, and then, would fall off her chair. Then, she would stagger back up, and repeat herself, swaying and bobbing back and forth, her hair dangling into her plate.

"I didn’t order lasgana!" she'd bellow. Finally, she lurched out of her chair and stumbled to the door.

Another drunk man kept coming into the restaurant, demanding service. The owner of the restaurant refused to let him in. In desperation, the kitchen staff put together a plate of leftovers and handed it over to him, if he promised to eat it elsewhere.

It didn’t work, though: he ate it outside, and then came back into the restaurant, and sat down next to me!

Doc kept us entertained with stories about his days as a minister in the sixties, teaching for a black college in the South at the heights of the Civil Rights movement. He’s really a fascinating guy.

Talullah is just as fascinating, but I'm not sure it's in a good way. Frankly, I think she's totally out to lunch. She’s nothing like I imagined--with her acting credentials, I expected she’d be dramatic, but I wasn’t expected the neurotic spawn of Norma Desmond, trapped in the body of a plump frog.

Melissa told me that the first night that they arrived in Scotland, when Aleister had shown everyone to a McDonalds for dinner, Talullah had refused to go. "I REFUSE to travel across the sea, just to grab a lousy hamburger at a McDonalds," she sniffed. "All I want is a cup of soup and a salad at a nice little bistro!"

To make her point, Talullah broke with the group, and grabbed Melissa by the hand, dragging her along for her quest to find her cozy bistro. Somehow, Melissa had formed a connection with her on the plane. Or perhaps it was just a cruel twst of fate: the two had ended up sitting next to each other on the flight to Scotland, and Talullah, frightened to death of air travel, insisted that Melissa hold her hand during the entire trip.

Unfortunately for Talullah and Melissa, all of the restaurants they visited were closing up for the night.

This didn’t set well with Talullah.

As they entered their third restaurant, the waiter stopped them at the door, and politely indicated that the restaurant was closing.

Talullah, infuriated, pushed him out of the way and scuttled over to the nearest empty chair.

"I DEMAND to be served!" she cried out, hitting the table with her fist.

Melissa, embarrassed, tried to sneak out of the front door, but Talullah stopped her. "No, Melissa," she said, using her theatrical voice. "You sit down right here, next to me."

By this time, the manager of the restaurant had been alerted by the waiter. "Ma’am, I’m very sorry about this, but we’re closed. You’re going to have to leave."

"My dear sir," said Talullah, turning to him, arms outstretched, in her best Evita pose. "We’ve just been traveling across the ocean for the past 36 hours. Can’t we JUST get a cup of soup and a soda?"

The manager frowned. "No, ma’am. You can’t."

Talullah let out a dramatic sigh, and lifted herself up from the table. Slowly, she dragged herself out of the restaurant, turning every now and then, in the hope that the manager would change his mind.

They ended up in McDonalds, after all.

Anyway, I guess that what goes around, comes around. The drunk that was sitting next to me served as a reminder that it was time to go. But on the way out, someone threw a slice of pizza at Talullah. It stuck, square on her backside.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pieces of Tartan (Part Two): Faces and Landings

Sometimes faces are nice to place next to the names, so here’s a photo of the group of people that I traveled with:

In the front row, on the left, is Doug. Doug was, for all intents and purposes, the leading actor in the troupe. With his long hair and blue eyes, coupled with his commanding, theatrical voice, he could certainly play the part. Oh yes, one other thing: he was completely and utterly full of himself.

Sitting next to Doug is Viola. Viola was probably the most talented of our lot, and ended up, about a decade later, winning a Tony award, as well as a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award. At the time, however, she was just a very promising college student.

In the second row, to the left, is Melissa. I don’t think Melissa became an award-winning actress, but she certainly became my best friend during this trip.

Standing in the center is Reo, who was our stage manager. She was a master of the duct tape, and probably kept the fragile balance of our increasingly divisive group all taped together, too.

Next to Reo is Margot, a Shakespearian-trained actress who served as an older aunt—not the crazy one with odd tics that every family has, but the one that everyone likes and ends up confiding in. She appeared in the Witches of Eastwick, and other films, but her best work has been on the stage.

The role of the crazy aunt was played by...oh, what shall I call her? Let's call her Tallulah Tulip. She's not pictured in this photo, but you’ll hear lots about her in this story. Think of her as an aging thespian fast approaching the road to Sunset Boulevard.

Finally, the last two people mentioned in the story are Bill (who I called "Doc," back then) and Jeri. Both have appeared in my journal on a few occasions, with his wife, Jeri. Bill served as director and producer of the production. Jeri often served (and continues to serve) as our much-needed voice of reason.

There they are! Commit them to memory, place the photo next to rest of the story, because now it’s time to step back about twenty years, to August 1989, as I open up the musty confines of a journal that’s lived inside a box for two decades, that tells the story of my hijinks and adventures at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Tuesday, August 8, 1989

I’m in London, now—and, I still have my job (at least, for now). I can’t believe that one, especially since I told Andrew one hour before closing on Friday. For some reason, he was okay about it. Slightly pissed, but what could he do? Well, he could actually do a lot, but chose not to. I'm not sure why he didn't, either.

The day after I dropped the E-bomb on Andrew, Josie and I had a wedding to go to, and spent the night in a hotel with Annie, outside of Providence. Monday night, the two of us went to Boston, and had a fun, sad, sexy, wonderful, really romantic evening, just being together, caressing, making love in the shower and in bed...I was very sad to have to say good-bye to her at seven the next morning. I was almost crying.

And now, here I am, in London, exhausted from a day spent up in the air. I arrived here at 10:00. The walk with the luggage left me sweating bullets! WHAT A GAS! Now, if only I knew what the hell I was spending...this currency has gotten me all sorts of confused.

Wednesday, August 9, 1989
Had a great day of sun and sin in the city of London.

Sounds provacative, eh? I can just imagine my children reading that someday, after I'm dead and buried, and wondering what the hell I had going on in my hotel room. Pimps, hoes...clowns?

Truth is, however, that it's a complete, silly exaggeration. Despite the skimpy entry, I clearly remember that day, which was basically spent walking around the center of London. My hotel was in the theater district, directly across from the Piccadilly Theater. At the time, the Piccadilly was home to a musical version of the Fritz Lang’s classic early movie Metropolis , and the neon sign for the show was directly across my hotel room. That sign blinked, on and off, all night long.

It was a muggy summer day, and rather than checking out what the London theater scene had to offer, I spent the day walking through some of the seedier sections of the city. No museums or art galleries for this boy. There was an adult movie theater that was showing five different features, with lurid titles such as "Sword of the Stud" and "Every Inch a Man."

I remember passing by that theater at least twenty times, fascinated, trying to summon up the courage to walk inside. Instead, I settled for buying some lousy dirty magazine in a porno shop and high-tailing it to my hotel room, lest anyone try to approach me. The magazine, as I recall, ended up being extremely disappointing.

So much for my day of "sun and sin."

One thing I also remember is being a bit confused by some of the cultural changes. For example, at the time, I was wearing hard contacts that had to be sterilized each night by heat. Unfortunately, I wasn’t aware of the fact that the wattage in England is different from that in America, which blew out my heating system and left me with fried lenses in the morning. Vain creature that I was, I stubbornly insisted on wearing them for the remainder of the trip, although I did not sterilize them once after that. Fortunately, I'm happy to repoprt that I still have eyeballs.

Another problem I had was with the bathrooms. The hotel I was staying at did not have bathrooms in the rooms. Instead, you were instructed to call the front desk, should you wish to have someone draw your bath for you. I misread this to mean that I had to contact the front desk every time you wished to use the bathroom, and couldn’t understand why the attendants kept asking me whether I wanted access to the tubs.

Okay, okay...I know...I was an extremely stupid wanker back then...and not really very sinful, either...

Thursday, August 10, 1989

Today started off terribly. I woke up at 6:30 in the morning and dragged all my stuff to Gatwick airport, to meet up with the group at 8:30.

However, one small problem: Doc never told me exactly where I was supposed to meet them. So, after arriving at the airport and searching around for ninety minutes, I finally gave up, and called Harold Eastman, our contact with Edinburgh, to see what I could do. He told me they had waited for me for around for forty minutes and then left, by bus.

So, what was I to do? Harold said that I could either take a bus from there or go back to London for a train. Of course, I discovered that the buses were all booked, so I was forced to trudge back to London and charge yet another bill to my father’s battered credit card.

Fortunately, things started to pick up from there. The train ride from London to Edinburgh turned out to be a wonderful experience. I sat across from a very handsome Italian soccer player who spent the trip with his eyes closed and a walkman over his ears. It was all I could do not to try and play footsy with him, but I managed to maintain control. The scenery—I mean, the scenery outside the train, was also gorgeous, except for when we passed through Glasgow.

As it turned out, I arrived three hours earlier than the others, and spent the free time having lunch at a wonderful Italian restaurant, and ordering a pint of ale to go with it.

After lunch, I traveled to the Performer’s center to catch up with the others, and met up with Harold’s assistant, Aleister. He’s wonderful. About twenty-two, with dirty blond hair and soft brown eyes. He tells great stories, non-stop, and has a great sense of cheer that’s infectious.

The others all arrived at the Performer’s center at 9:00, and were clearly tired and grumpy. They were, frankly, unbearable at that point, but thankfully, Aleister was able to move them into a restaurant and, once their bellies were filled, move us into our flat.

I love writing that we're staying in a flat. It sounds so much classier than "an apartment." Except for Doc and Jeri, and Miss Talullah, the rest of us are all staying in a three bedroom flat in the center of Edinburgh.

Doug immediately claimed the living room, and I staked out a small bedroom. Margot and Reo shared the master bedroom, while Viola and Melissa shared the final room.

After placing our luggage in our quarters, we all gathered back in the living room. Aleister was still there, and out of nowhere, walked over to the piano in the room and began playing "Song for a Guy," which took me aback, because I had been listening to that exact same song on the train ride to Edinburgh. It seemed odd to me that he should choose this song, which came from an Elton John album called "A Single Man" over a decade before.

At the time I was a huge Elton fanatic, and this song was one that I had played, over and over, for days, especially during the flight, because it was so relaxing.

That was the first of several weird connections that happened today. They almost felt like signs. In addition to "Song for Guy," when I started to snoop around the apartment (which of course I was bound to do), the first book that I opened up turned out to be a university book on Expressionistic art—an exact copy of which I had been thumbing through at a friend’s house the day before I flew to Scotland.

Strangest of all, the Water Closet in the flat has photos taped to the door of the two owners. One of them is my spitting image. Seriously. The guy could be my twin! It was weird, staring at the photo. I had half a mind to steal it and bring it back home with me.

Three minor connections, I suppose, but a nice way to start out my stay in Scotland—a nice sort of welcome, I think.

We spent the night talking excitedly, and making plans for the next day. At midnight, Viola announced that it was officially her birthday, and everyone cheered. Aleister walked over to her and gave her a big kiss on the lips. I think he’s a bit fond of her! I went to bed feeling much happier than I had that morning.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pieces of Tartan (part one): The Journey Before

I made a promise to one of my oldest and dearest online friends a few years ago to  locate the journal I kept about my trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. I traveled there a few years after college, quitting the job I had at the time (or at least, trying to) in order to travel with an acting troupe as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

So, one afternoon after work, I traveled to Josie's, and ventured down into the cellar, to sort through all the boxes that I have down there, filled with scripts and scribbles representing thirty years of my life. I have them all labeled by subject: “Childhood,” “College,” “The Cranky Thirties”...

Fortunately, I was able to locate my Edinburgh journal fairly quickly, and found a few extra things, besides. I drove back to the apartment with the boxes that contained the journal, and I have to admit, I'm having a great time revisiting that period of my life.

The journal that contains my Edinburgh trip was written in 1989. I started it right after I had quit a job at Aetna Insurance, which I had left because I wanted to focus more on my writing. And I did do, too, much to the chagrin of my parents, who weren't thrilled watching their college graduate son taking up space in their house, staying up late at night, and sleeping until noon. It was like college, all over again.

I do like some of the lines I scribbled, though. Such as this one:

"All diary writers write for a secret audience. They yearn for someone to pick up the stories of their lives, and read all their secrets."

Imagine what life would have been like for me if Live Journal had been around, back then!

But it is true, isn't it? Even these blogs that we post--aren't we really all, secretly, hoping that they'll be picked up and embraced by a larger audience?


So, how did I end up in Scotland, back in 1989? As I mentioned, after graduating from college, I spent about a year and a half working as a claims adjuster for Aetna, and did so well that I had actually been offered a promotion. Instead of accepting it, however, contrarian that I am, I quit the job, determined to live off of the $3,000 that I had managed to save up. I was hoping to heed the advice of one of my college professors, a woman named Julia Steiny, who had advised me to run off to California and work at a shoe factory, so that I might possibly become a better writer, as a result of learning what life was really about.

Much to Julia’s irritation, I stayed put in North Eldredge, took up with a beautiful young woman with a one-year-old child (yes, I’m talking about Josie and Annie), and spent months staying up all night at my parents and sleeping until one in the afternoon, at which point, I would stumble out of bed and dutifully record the dreams I had had the night before.

This lifestyle choice inevitably led to the following sorts of entries:

"Dad woke me up at seven this morning, hollering at me that I was lazy and an embarrassment to the family. Oy vay! Do I have to put up with this shit?"

However, while I was living this peculiarly delicious brand of la vida loca, I did manage to find the time to visit an old professor, Bill Hutchinson. Although I harbor some ill feelings toward the college that I graduated from, to this day, I dearly love Bill, who was a dream-weaver for literally thousands of students who entered into the theater department at Rhode Island College.

True to form, the minute he saw me, he started casting a new dream for me: would I consider serving as assistant director and producer for a small group of actors from RIC and Trinity Repertory Company that were planning to participate in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August? I said yes, immediately, and a few weeks later, handed him one-third of the money in my bank account. (P.S.: I don’t think I told my parents that part.)

My father and Nana were appalled with this decision. However, my mother just grinned and said, "Ted, if you’re looking for approval for that, the best way to get it is to just go out and do it. Otherwise, you’ll just be sitting in your room, going nowhere."

To appease my father, however, I did continue looking for a job, and, a bit to my own surprise, actually landed one.

Welcome to the eighties! Here I am at Yardell, wearing a salmon colored shirt and a thin tie. Quick...somebody call the fashion police!

The place was called the Yardell Company, and I was hired as a reporter. The job title was something of a misnomer, however, because it was the most simplistic and boring reporting conceivable...even more boring than insurance! Yardell was a bit like Dunn & Bradstreet, only their focus was on companies that manufactured plastics. My job was to call up companies and find out how many injection molders and extruders they had, and then update Yardell’s records, for their clients.

Even worse, the company was owned by four brothers, who ran the company as if it were their own personal fiefdom (which I suppose it actually was). They treated their employees as if they were no better than the postage stamps and staplers that they placed on their desks. One of the brothers actually threw a wadded up piece of paper at one of the admins and then said, "Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were the garbage can!"

While I worked there, a sexual harassment lawsuit was filed against them, and various employees were called in to testify. One piece of evidence introduced during the lawsuit was a drawing that an employee had made of what life was like to work there, called "Welcome to Yar-hell." And it was.

The only thing that made it halfway palatable was that their office on the fifth floor was situated directly across from the Boy’s dorm rooms of Johnson and Wales. My cubicle looked directly into some of the rooms.

Naturally, I was scared to death of these odious overlords. And, although my intention had been to tell my immediate boss (and the most sane of the four), Andrew, about the trip, I would feel a knot form in the pit of my stomach every time an opportunity came to bring up the subject.

So, I did the only sensible thing...I avoided saying anything about my approaching one-month trip to Scotland. If I ever had to leave early or come in late, I’d lie about where I was going or where I had been. One time, I actually called from the City Hall in Providence, and pretended that I was in an airplane terminal, dropping my grandmother off on a trip to Ireland, so that I could take half a day off.

The Friday before I was about to fly out to London, I had no choice. I had to say something. I sat at my desk all morning, paralyzed with fear, knowing that I just couldn’t leave that day and not show up on Monday morning.

Finally, around two, I screwed up my courage and entered Andrew’s office.

"Hi Andrew," I said.

Andrew sat at his desk, his fingers intertwined, watching the traffic outside his window. "Ted," he said, in the reserved, slightly sing-song, dismissive tone that I long since learned to live with.

"I have something to tell you," I said. "I’ve been asked to travel to Scotland with a group of actors from Trinity Rep."

He stopped looking out the window and turned his attention directly on me. "For how long?" he asked.

"Well...about a month," I replied, thinking to myself, "Well, here it comes. Not three months on the job and looking to take a month off. He’s going to fire me, for sure!"

Instead, the expression on Andrew’s face changed. "That’s terrific!" he said, smiling broadly. "What a great opportunity! When are you leaving?"

"Ummmm..." I quickly said a Hail Mary, squinted up my eyes, and blurted it out.

Andrew’s pinched face started to grow a bright red. He bit his lower lip, and the spectacles on his nose started to fall down a bit. He scrunched up his thin, patrician nose. I sat there, waiting for the fireworks to erupt, ready to move back and cower in my seat, my arms around my face, for protection.

But, oddly enough, he didn’t fire me, at that moment. He didn’t yell. He simply paused, then cursed mildly under his breath. "Well,” he finally said. “When you return, come back to the office. We’ll see if we still have room for you."

And that was it. That Monday, I was flying to London, where I was going to spend a few days all by myself, before catching up with the other actors. That’s where my journal picks up.

Next episode: Placing the faces.