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.

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