On the Road with Scenery Chewer


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The resourceful gays in my cast had changed the day of their weekly outing.  “It’s Wednes-gay this week,” they told us, rejecting the “Thurs-gay” tradition just this once.  Apparently the all-male strip club down the street held ladies’ night on Wednesday, and they wanted me and the other recently inaugurated females of the cast to come.  How could we say no?

So that’s how I ended up at Stock Bar last night, watching a Pauly D lookalike grinding away with a cock the length of a knee sock.  I turned to my friend Danielle.  “I’m going to need a drink.”

In all honesty, male strip clubs aren’t a heck of a lot different than female strip clubs.  The drinks are overpriced, the place reeks of cheap cologne, and nobody has any body hair.  I did note some key differences, however.  Female strippers tend to be named things like Candy or Nikki, while male strippers are apparently christened Pepe or Santiago, or, in the case of one lucky bastard, Max Rich.  Nobody tipped the dancers, either.  Now, Canadians are notoriously bad tippers.  (Yes, it’s true, sorry Canadians.  I found that out the hard way, by waiting on them.)  So it could be that male strippers do get tips below the border…. both literally and figuratively.  One of the reasons Danielle and I went in the first place was to figure out how to tip strippers in dollar coins.  It turned out we could’ve put them between the stripper’s bulging pectorals, or between two chiseled butt cheeks, although that did seem a bit invasive.  Canadians cleverly sidestep the issue by not tipping at all.

If you really wanted to tip someone, but you don’t want to pay $20 for a lap dance, you could pay $5 to come onstage and dry-hump the dancers.  Only one woman did that, and she was a hot mess.  She wouldn’t stay still:  the stripper would try to bend her over and grind against her butt, and she would squirm out of his grasp and change positions.  “I bet she’s terrible in bed,” I whispered to Danielle, who agreed with me.  The woman kept coming on stage, and finally one of the dancers, a really hot black guy in ripped jeans, picked her up bodily and turned her upside down.  She was clinging to him for dear life.

I’m not sure what happened to her after that.

Given that we were in Montreal, each stripper gyrated to the worst possible selection of Euro-trash pop available.  Occasionally the DJ would descend into the absolute pits of American pop music, like that song with the chorus of “This is fucking awesome.”  And given that it was ladies’ night, they stopped the action around 12:30 or so to hold a dance-off for the girls.  Five inebriated “ladies” got up to compete.  This being a gay bar, the heaviest girl won, but not before another girl (who looked a lot like Ke$ha) bared her tits for the entire audience, and not before the winner got forced into a one-one-one, “Lip Synch Fo’ Yo’ Life” style dance-off with the runner-up, in which they proceeded to grind against one another, stimulating masturbation, which turned on exactly no one.

But the fat girl beat the skinny bitches, that’s all that matters.

After the dance-off, the second half contained a tad more variety.  One guy juggled and ate fire, which was cool, but he should’ve had his pants off.  (“Cirque du So-Gay,” I giggled to Danielle.)  Another guy did fairly intricate pole tricks.  They all seemed to have a little trouble with the dismount, by which I mean they would shuffle off the stage with their pants around their ankles.  It was a real turn-off.  Danielle suggested a sensible jazz shoe would solve that problem, allowing them to slip the pants past their ankles, but we didn’t mention it to anybody.  (I mean, no one spoke English.)

Finally, a blatantly gay young man came out with a penis the size and color of a Chilean salmon, and we were just DONE.  We took cabs home, and I was in bed by 1:34.  None of the guys had been attractive to me.  They had all been too chiseled, too narcissistic, too dead behind the eyes.  I like to think that’s how men feel about women after a few hours at a strip club?  No?  Okay.  Well, I just know I’d rather cuddle up with someone with a normal set of abs, a good sense of humor, and a little bit of chest hair.  That, to me, is a real man.

Little by little, I am making my way into the 21st century.  Last weekend I bought myself an iPhone.

My main reason for doing this was because my iPod shit the bed.  (“They still make iPods?,” a former castmate asked me once.  He was serious.)  It was time to replace my phone anyway, and I saw this as the perfect excuse to make the switch to a smartphone.  That, and it’s practically 2013.

I was looking forward to Siri.  I was looking forward to a decent camera phone and built-in voice recording for rehearsals.   I was looking forward to seamlessly uploading everything onto my Mac.  But mostly, I was looking forward to Oregon Trail. 

My affection for this game began, as everyone else’s did, somewhere around the third grade, which means circa 1988.  Apple computers had been plopped into a spare classroom at St. Bernadette’s.  Instructors were still unsure about exactly what to do with them, so they bought a bunch of educational games, and we were sent to play them for 45 minutes several times a week.

Oregon Trail was my favorite, along with this random game where you have to be a fish and try to eat plankton without a hook in it.  Anyway.   In Oregon Trail, I got to be a wagon leader guiding a party of settlers from Missouri to Oregon over the Oregon Trail via a Studebaker Wagon in 1848.  I chose the names of everyone in my party, and I could kill them off pretty much at will.  (“Jesus has dysentery.  Stop to rest?  Y/N”)  Along the way I had to hunt for food (by manipulating the arrow keys and hitting ‘enter’ to shoot), cross rivers (pay for a ferry or caulk the wagon and float it across?), and try not to die of diphtheria or any other cause on the way to Oregon.

I never made it once.

This is due in part to the fact that I had limited time in computer class.  Clearly, one needs more than 45 minutes to cross a continent, and back then games couldn’t be saved.  Or it could be that my eight-year-old self had no business heading up a wagon train to the Willamette Valley.  But my thwarted manifest destiny has developed into a little bit of an obsession.  In the early aughts, my sister and I bought an updated version of the game off Amazon for our PC, Betty.  It was clunky and dull, with long stretches of video animated bullshit and lengthy chapters that contextualized the decisions we were being asked to make.  BORING! I prefer to head out West without the slightest idea of what will be in store.  You know, the way the pioneers did.

So while the purchase of an iPhone should take me deeper into the 21st century, I have a feeling it will have the opposite effect.   I will be transported back to the world of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I may even be inspired to reread the old classics, although I doubt I’ll find it as thrilling when the improbably-named Almanzo tries to kiss her in the back of the buggy.  Maybe I’ll pick up more adult fare, like Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! or a biography about Lewis and Clark.

But part of me will be transported back to a computer classroom in 1988, where an eight year old fell in love with history while shooting bison and avoiding diphtheria.

The library is just down the street.

 

Our apartment search continued as Andre and I made daily trips from Los Angeles to Long Beach.  Stress mounted as we saw terrible apartment after terrible apartment, trudging in and out of numerous realty offices, chasing down leads on Craigslist, making multiple U-turns when one of us spotted a ‘For Rent’ sign near a driveway.  We became sullen and irritable.  Returning to Los Feliz, we established a ritual whereby we would pour a drink, scour the internet, watch the Olympics, and go to bed.  Repeat the next day.  And the next.

But we swore to ourselves that we wouldn’t lower our standards.  In fact, we raised them:  we realized that we could get a two bedroom for what we were able to pay.  And we were discovering exactly where we wanted to live as well.  The desirable neighborhoods of Belmont Shores and Belmont Heights had little to offer in terms of rentals, but we stumbled upon an area that reminded us a little bit of Brooklyn.  Granted, it was only a couple of blocks, but East 4th Street housed the art theatre, a book store, two wine bars, a coffee shop, restaurants, and more than one vintage store from which that musty, familiar thrift-store smell wafted onto the street.

Nearby, we found a 2 BR for $1125 in a decidedly dicey building.  But the unit had been remodeled and had an eat-in-kitchen, along with plenty of closet space.  The floors were tile, but they weren’t hideous.  On the other hand, the rear windows revealed an intimate view of the neighbor’s rotting fence, and we would be the only tenants speaking English.  But we’d hunting for a week, and we were tempted.

We’d also seen a 1 BR for $995 (including utilities) in a building named, of all things, Gotham Lofts.  It was full of charm and character, but it was downtown, and a good four blocks from the decent section of downtown.  We asked the building manager, a cute 23 year old who lived there, if she felt safe coming home at night.  “It’s fine,” she replied cheerfully.  “I mean, always carry Mace, but…”

The apartment, while spacious, was not without quirks that would do an NYC apartment  proud.  The kitchen was so narrow that one couldn’t open the refrigerator door without bumping into the opposing cabinets.  There was an enormous hole in the bathroom wall from which I could imagine all sorts of creepy-crawlies emerging.  Other than that, it was fine.

So as the week rounded out, our options were a ghetto 2 BR with views of a fence, or a 1BR requiring an investment in Mace.  Neither one felt right.  Our standards were slipping after all.

Then on Saturday morning we showed up at an open house for a 2 BR for $1300.  Nobody was at the open house, of course, except for two disgruntled twenty-something girls who’d been looking for a place since May.  Undeterred by signature California flakiness, I called the building manager, who was not home, but would be in an hour.  The girls left, disgusted, but we stuck around.

When Luke, the manager, showed up, he looked like he’d been plucked from the streets of Williamsburg.  He was sporting black skinny jeans, nerd glasses, and boots.  He let us into a courtyard that had a faintly European feel with a pretty, but defunct fountain at its center.  We ascended a staircase to apartment three.  Simply put, it was fabulous.  Painted a pale shade of turquoise, it featured built-in cabinetry, lots of closets, and an itty-bitty outside area just large enough for a charcoal grill.  We applied online the second we got home and spent Monday anxiously waiting to hear back.

Somehow, another couple had put in an application before us, probably while we were trekking it back to L.A.  However, in this case California idiocy paid off:  the applicants had failed to produce pay stubs, and after three unreturned phone calls informing them of this, the management company scrapped their application and went on to ours.

We moved in Friday.

The apartment we’ll never find in Long Beach, CA

Seven days in a car will test even the most harmonious of couples. By the time we got to Long Beach, we were sick of the car, sick of the radio, sick of the highway, sick of each other, and more than anything, sick of ourselves.  We arrived on a Saturday and hit the ground running, excited to find a little corner of California to call our own.  By Tuesday we were pulling our hair out.  Here’s what we found:

1.  Day One

Our first appointment in California had been with a property manager named Brittanie.  (Of course.)  Brittanie wasn’t in when we showed up at the Hathaway apartment building.  (Of course.)  Joel, the harried, dumpy, but not unpleasant representative explained that he was the only one on staff, and he had to give two people a tour, and he had two more lined up, but if we wouldn’t mind waiting…

“What time should we come back?”  I cut to the chase.

“Maybe 4:30?”

We killed time by driving around Naples Island, a neighborhood in which we’d seen a 1 BR advertised on Craigslist.  But when we’d called to see it, the antiquated, possibly crazy lady who answered the phone told us the tenant hadn’t moved out yet.  (If she can’t show it, then why advertise it on Craigslist?  This  is standard California practice, we discovered.  The state is peopled by idiots.)  We went to see the outside of it anyway, which is how we discovered Naples Island, which is beautiful, but has the disadvantage of not seeming like a real place.  It’s the beachiest part of a beach town:  an endless summertime place of clapboard houses and cookouts.  I couldn’t imagine actually living there any more than I could imagine taking a unicorn on the subway.

We stopped into a tiny real estate office where a soft-spoken agent named Mary wasted no time showing us an apartment that was out of our price range.  To make matters worse, the elderly, crippled landlady lived on the premises, and there was a dead cockroach in the kitchen the size of my pinkie.  We passed.

When we got back to the Hathaway, Joel was trying to get rid of a Russian lady with magenta hair and green eyeshadow who wanted to upgrade her apartment to one overlooking the pool.  Once he ushered her out of the office, our “meeting” lasted fewer than ten minutes.  One bedrooms in this soulless, corporate-housing-style complex with its circus cast of characters ran for nearly $1500. We didn’t leave NY to pay those kinds of rents.  We headed back to our friend’s pad in Los Feliz, dejected but still determined.

2.  Day Two

Our first appointment Monday introduces us to a blonde Pilates instructor with possibly fake tits who is leasing her charming 1 BR for a sensible $1100. It’s too small, we decide, but the loquacious Kimberly inadvertently gives us a myriad of helpful housing tips.

Over the next three hours we see some of the worst apartments in Southern California.   The practice in Long Beach is to go to a management office, put down a nominal deposit, and obtain the keys for up to three apartments.  Then you’re left to drive around and explore them on your own, unaccompanied by meddlesome brokers and supers.  (You know, people who might know something about the property.)  This would never fly in New York, where vacant apartments would be turned into crack dens.

Stylistically, every apartment was saw could be deemed “classic LA,” which I define as the following:  two-story buildings resembling a cheap motel, overlooking crappy courtyards or the neighbor’s rotting fence; inside, a galley kitchen layout with no dishwasher and a fridge from the ’80s (if there’s a fridge at all), a living room with a stained carpet reeking of cigarette smoke, one small bedroom with a mirrored, sliding-door closet, and a dated bathroom outfitted in checkered tiles of grey, coral, or beige.

By 2:00 my dreams of California livin’ were dying a hard death.

“Everyone said we’d get more space out here!”  I moaned in the car.  “I envisioned a patio or at least a balcony!  A dishwasher!  Central air!”

Then we pulled up to 229 1/2 St. Joseph Ave.  I liked the idea of living at a 1/2.  It reminded me catching the train at gate 9 3/4 at Kings Cross a la Harry Potter.  In this case, the 1/2 signified a guest house behind the spacious Spanish colonial at 229.  A spiral staircase led to the apartment, where a worker was putting the finishing touches on the deck.  (!)  Looking out, we could see across rooftops to the Pacific Ocean in the distance.  The French doors opened onto a spacious apartment with vaulted ceilings and appliances from this century.  The rent, including utilities, was $1,250.

“We’ll take it,” I said.

Thus begins the application process…

I woke up at 6:00 AM with Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind already looping through my head.  The enormity of leaving New York hadn’t hit me until that moment.  Andre and I had been too overwhelmed with planning and packing to ponder much else.  Boxes and suitcases lay piled on the floor to be crammed into the car later that morning.  We had already shipped nine boxes to my friend Shelby in North Hollywood for the “not-as-bad-as-we-thought” price of $298.  We were ready to go.

But as I unrolled my yoga mat that morning, wanting to get at least 20 minutes in before they day’s long drive, it dawned on me that my life was about to change forever.  “We’ll be back.  After all, we still own our place here,” we told people as we said our goodbyes.  “And I’ll be back to audition for Broadway shows,” I said, suppressing a sense of hopelessness every time I said it.  But even if my inner doubts prove to be completely unfounded, Andre and I were still driving off that day to set up life somewhere else.  Our lives were about to change, for better or worse.

But as I launched into my sun salutations, I was surprised to discover how ready I felt for change.  Would I honestly miss New York?  Oh sure, I would miss aspects of my life.  I would miss my sister, for one, who lives (relatively) close by in Harlem.  I would miss both of my book clubs.  Free dance class at the studios where I’ve worked.  Fresh mangoes on the street.  Free mani/pedis.  My friends, obviously.

I spent the entire drive to Ohio that day scouring my brain for more things, but came up a little short.  I certainly wouldn’t miss my agent.  I tried and failed to work up  a sense of nostalgia for the MTA, which I love in theory but hate in practice.  I love living next to Fort Greene Park, but it can’t quite compare to living next to the Pacific Ocean.   Our favorite restaurants would soon be replaced by other restaurants, and while I love our neighborhood wine and cheese shops, the thought of throwing my Trader Joe’s into the trunk of my car made me ecstatic.

But what about the theatre community?  Hmm… I fear I will painfully miss the individuals who comprise the community every day for a long time, but I certainly won’t miss the industry itself.  Most of the work I’ve booked has not actually been in New York.  One day hopefully that will change!  But meanwhile I associate being in the City with the hellish rigors of auditioning.  I began to fantasize a little bit.  How great would it be to audition and work in the same place?  How great would it be to do what I love during the day, and sleep in my own bed at night?  Rather than working day jobs and auditioning during the day, and sleeping in my own bed at night.  Or conversely, doing what I love during the day, and sleeping in a different bed at night, either at a hotel on the road or in artist housing that quickly loses its charm.

I am ready for a change:  a change of pace and a change of scene.  I’m hoping that in a smaller theatrical community I will easily find work in theaters somewhat close to where I live.  Like in the same state.  And if I choose to go to an EPA, on the West Coast I can call and make a sensible appointment a week ahead of time, instead of getting up at 6:00 AM to get a slot before 2:00.  And if I’m fortunate enough to find a new agent, and that agent can get me film and TV auditions, hallelujah!  In film and TV they don’t normally ask you to learn an entire song in 24 hours, but if they do, I remain optimistic that they will actually let me sing it.  And yes, it will suck to be stuck in traffic in LA on my way to said auditions, but at least I won’t have my thoughts interrupted by groups of semi-talented teenagers doing tired pole tricks alongside a half-ass pop and lock.

It will be a while before I truly understand the ramifications of our move out West.  But until then I can dream of life in a city that doesn’t crush my dreams quite so readily as New York has done for the last ten years.   And I can take the knowledge gleaned from the battering I’ve received and start over again, fresh, but seasoned.  I am old enough to know that life doesn’t give you that chance very often.

The small, five-gate airport in Augusta, Georgia is modeled after a Southern mansion, as if to indulge one’s Gone With the Wind fantasy the moment one steps off the plane.  One does not necessarily want this fantasy indulged if de-planing with one’s African-American husband.  “This is going to be a strange place,” I thought to myself.

The behavior of my plane-mates had affirmed this.  They were the sort who were unable to form lines, wait patiently for bags, and (in at least one case) wear deodorant.  The final attribute was exacerbated by the fact that the plane had faulty air conditioning.  People weren’t happy about that.  Apparently, the majority of Southern men think that air conditioning, and not health care, is a universal right.  Granted, it’s terrible to have to suffer so on an overnight flight from Dubai– oh, wait.  We weren’t on an overnight flight from Dubai.  We were on a puddle jumper from Atlanta to Augusta.  The duration of the flight was 27 minutes:  less than a half hour sans conditioned air.  Someone alert the media.

But I do have to admit that Augusta was hot.  This marked my first trip south in the dead of summer.  When we exited the airport, it was easily 612 degrees outside.  Lethargy enveloped me like a blanket.  My sister-in-law, complaining of a headache, let Andre drive her car from the airport to the hotel, with repeated admonishment to drive “like a southerner.”  He ignored her.

I am learning, however, to adapt to the slow pace of the South when visiting his family.  At first it frustrated me.  Granted, I’ve lived in New York for the last ten years, but constitutionally I’ve always been fast-paced.  I think fast, I talk fast.  (Too fast, according to most people.)  It wasn’t until drama school that I learned how to slow down my speech to suit the stage.  And when my sister and I return home to Ohio, my mother orchestrates familial activity with the pace and energy of a 24-year-old cruise director named Julie.

Comparatively, Andre’s family doesn’t do a lot.  If it were 100 years ago, we would be sitting in rocking chairs on somebody’s porch, but in this day and age, we sit in the air conditioning with the TV quietly humming in the background.  Friends and relatives drop in and out.  We may get up and go to another person’s house, where the same activity is repeated.  My in-laws are congenial people, so there’s usually a lot of laughter, along with news, gossip, and trips down memory lane.  At first I thought all families were like mine, and I would create things for Andre and me to do when we visited his home.  He lives mere minutes from Colonial Williamsburg, after all.  But now I’m learning to embrace the time off.  It’s very relaxing.  And no one wants to putz around Colonial Williamsburg in 612 degree heat, no matter how big a history nerd you claim to be.

The thing that’s most difficult for Andre and me to adjust to is the disporportionate sense of time.  If an event takes place at a certain hour, the two of us have a hard time not showing up within 20 minutes of that time frame.  So there’s a lot of waiting that goes on, which usually irritates my husband more than it does me.  This weekend it really bothered me, though: I was informed that we were leaving Augusta for Newport News at 7:30 in the morning, which I consider an un-Christian time to depart, and I told them so.  “I don’t care what time they rolled away the stone Easter morning,” I said.  “Jesus wouldn’t want us to get up that early.”  Nonetheless, Andre and I got up at 6:45 to be packed and ready to go by 7:30.  Actual departure time?  9:00.

“You just have to tell me!”  I told Andre, frustrated, in what was not my finest hour.  “I just need to know when we’re on CP time and when we’re on real time!  It’s not fair to me if I don’t understand!”

I was reminded of my uncle, a 75-year-old Catholic priest who once left a Hispanic wedding he was supposed to officiate because the entire wedding party was over two hours late.  Not his finest hour, either.  (Or was it?)  At any rate, he doesn’t perform “those weddings” anymore.

In this case, however, my husband was equally perturbed.  “I don’t know either,” he cried.  “I’ve been away too long!”

When forced to recount this exchange to my in-laws, they chortled.  “Molly,” my sister-in-law told me.  “It’s always CP time.”

The Augusta wedding started a sensible 30 minutes behind schedule, which once again annoyed my husband more than me.  “It’s cutting into open bar time,” he complained.  Andre’s family doesn’t have that good old drunken uncle who will reliably dance on tables, fall down stairs, wear lampshades on his head, etc., so sometimes I fear that we are it, as a couple.  We managed to contain ourselves at this wedding, but there wasn’t any whiskey.   It’s interesting the myriad of ways that cultural differences can come into play.  In Irish culture, if there’s no whiskey at the wedding, I’m not sure it counts.  My Asian brother-in-law embraced this tradition by giving each of his groomsmen moonshine made in his apartment in Harlem, which is an amalgamation of all sorts of cultures, isn’t it?  Andre assures me he has family that could also make moonshine, but with slightly more terrifying results.  To meet them, however, we’d have to go out to “The Country,” the backwoods region where his family claims origin, at least as far back as anyone can remember.  The Country is so deep in the south and so slow-paced that one could presumably depart at noon on a Tuesday and arrive Sunday at four.  Unfortunately, the one thing this trip has taught me is that I’m not quite ready for that…

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