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It always starts with my boobs, as I am suddenly aware of them brushing against the insides of my arms.   Invariably, the first place I accumulate weight is my breasts.  That sounds like a good thing, but it’s not.

On October 31st the black dress I had chosen to wear to my part-time job at Andre’s school required a strapless bra.  I had only one, which I purchased a year ago while on tour.  At the time I remember bitching vociferously about the eight pounds I needed to lose.   I haven’t lost the eight pounds between now and then.  In fact, due do a sedentary California lifestyle and an overall sense of satisfaction with life, I have gained an additional seven pounds.  So on Halloween morning my tits were spilling out the top of the bra, dividing my two breasts into four.  I threw on a cardigan, lacking the time or energy to change, and swore off Halloween treats for the day.

I did manage to keep my promise.  I had oatmeal for breakfast, leftover salmon and couscous for lunch, and at 5:00 I ate a Lean Pocket, rode Andre’s bike home, did an hour of power yoga, and noshed on pumpkin seeds for the rest of the night.  But the next morning the scale confirmed that I now need to lose at least 12 pounds.

I know that a number is just a number and it’s more about how you feel, etc, etc.  And I have a job coming up, so I can’t even claim that I need to be a certain weight to book work.  But I also know that a Lean Pocket and pumpkin seeds do not constitute a meal, especially when consumed over the course of four hours.  Since late July, when I abandoned Weight Watchers,  I  find myself going through depraved periods of denial and indulgence.  For example, the night before I had gone out with a friend and ordered a carrot and quinoa salad, coupled with three glasses of wine.  I threw up into a newspaper on the train ride home.  Now, I am not an amateur drinker.  I know that if I drink more than two, I need to eat something substantial.  The problem is, I considered quinoa and carrots to be substantial.  That’s sick.  What’s sicker is that my first thought the next morning, after I had taken two aspirin and slept it off, was “Oh God, I’m so glad I threw up.  That way the calories don’t count.”

When recounting her battle with bulimia, the standup comedian Margaret Cho realizes she has a problem when she sees a picture of Christ carrying the cross and thinks, “Wow.  That must be, like, really good exercise.”

It’s the same line of thought that makes me consider quinoa and carrots a meal.

It’s hard to commit to Weight Watchers.  After the novelty has worn off, it’s a pain in the ass to calculate Points, to order the salad without cheese, to pass on the free treats at work.  It sucks when you’re hungry and your only option is baby carrots.  It sucks not getting popcorn at the movies.  It sucks choosing a balanced meal over a second glass of wine.

But it sucks worse having four boobs.  And it’s even worse to have to buy a new bra.  That would simply be a precursor to a whole new fat wardrobe.  And I don’t want to buy a whole new fat wardrobe!  (Although I would happily buy a whole new skinny one.)

So it’s back to Weight Watchers.  The Plan is like that old friend you’ve had since college, who drives you completely batshit and knows how to press all your buttons.  The friend you sees through your poses and posturing and doesn’t accept your bullshit excuses.  Weight Watchers may drive me crazy, but at the end of the day, she’s there for me.  That’s how it is.  It works.

 

The application process for 291 1/2 St. Joseph Avenue required the slightest bit of creative accounting on our part.  Unemployment and student loans do not make the most enticing tenant package.  After meticulously going through our paperwork we managed to put together an application in which I maybe slightly exaggerated the number of hours I had agreed to work for a friend’s catering company in California.  We submitted our package in the middle of the day to Pabst-Kinney Management.

The desk attendant remembered me from the day before.  “Ooh, which one did you pick?” she asked.  I told her.  “Did Kolby [the broker] tell you that’s the owner’s house?”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“The owners of Pabst-Kinney, George Pabst and Katie Kinney, live there.”

“Oh.  No, he neglected to mention that.”

“Don’t worry, Katie’s really nice.”  She handed me a business card with our broker’s name written on it:  Kolby Pabst.  Pabst.  Like Pabst-Kinney Management.

I walked out of the office and called Kolby, putting on my most cheerful tone.  “Hi, Kolby.  Just wanted to let you know that we submitted our application.”

“Oh… okay.  I should let you know that last night the owner showed the apartment to another prospective tenant, and that tenant put in an application as well.”

My heart sank.  It was clear from his cramped, ultra-professional tone that Kolby had to make a real effort to say “owner” instead of “Mom” and “prospective tenant” instead of “my frat brother Buzz.”  And just like that the apartment slipped through our fingertips.

We did not get it.

The panic set in when I turned a corner and saw Eric Woodall from Tara Rubin’s office.

I hadn’t given any thought to the other people who would be attending the Broadway Inspirational Voices concert.  But in my galoshes, pullover and product-free hair I was certainly not ready to be seen by a casting director or anyone else in “the industry.”

“Always look your best,” we were told at Carnegie Mellon.  “You never know who you might run into when you’re doing your laundry.”  In 2003 my then-agent Ann Steele reinforced this point by telling me I needed to “glam up.”

But this was about more than just my appearance.  Andre and I were attending the concert of the “Broadway gospel choir,” as it’s known, because some very good friends were in it.  And I had been looking forward to getting my praise on.

Unfortunately for rubber-heeled me, so were the movers and shakers of the Broadway community.  Members have to be invited to join Broadway Inspirational Voices, and so the  both the people singing and those attending the concert tend to be a little more established.  Of course I could count myself lucky that Andre and I were among this group, but the two of us absolutely detest having to schmooze with members of the establishment.  If forced, we prefer to do our schmoozing in situations tempered by the social lubricant of alcohol.  A gospel concert is no such place.  So I said some quick hellos to a few people and dashed off to find my seat.

My husband and I sat making idle conversation and trying not to appear as if we were checking out everyone else.  Once the concert began, the music was beautiful, and the songs should have been uplifting.  But I had never sat in a church feeling quite so uncomfortable.

It wasn’t the people making me feel ill at ease.  It was the odd combination of mixing industry with church.  Most scenerychewer readers know that I go to church almost every Sunday.  For me it’s a place to escape and to ponder the big spiritual questions of life.  It’s a safe, loving place where I am loved unconditionally, where I can be vulnerable and helpless and brave and empowered all at the same time.

Show biz, by contrast, is a demanding, judgmental, hypercritical, conniving, manipulative, cold, cruel bitch.  Surviving in it requires a tough skin.  Yet I found myself being asked to shed that skin to be able to praise God with everyone else through the power of gospel music.  Throughout most of the concert I just couldn’t get there.  I didn’t feel safe.  I certainly didn’t feel loved.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that there were thieves in the temple, as Prince would say.

It wasn’t until the 11:00 number, so to speak, when our friend and choir member Angela stepped up to the microphone, that I began to feel differently.  Angela spoke of seasons in our lives, of cold winters and lush harvests.  She spoke of how everyone seems to be doing better than us, but how a smile can belie a conflicted and tumultuous private life.  She talked about the fact that almost all of us are waiting on some blessing or another, but if we wait too long for what’s to come, we begin to miss out on the now.  We risk missing out on God’s abundance already at work in our lives.

I knew this already– that is, this is something I’m trying very hard to accept and retain on a spiritual level–  but for the first time it occurred to me that all of these scary people were  seeking like me, too.  All the directors who hadn’t hired me or the casting directors who wouldn’t see me (by which I do not mean Eric Woodall; he’s lovely), all the people with better resumes who make me feel small and insignificant…  it occurred to me that they might feel small and vulnerable and helpless from time to time, too.  And suddenly they didn’t seem so big and scary.  It sounds like a simple and obvious point, but one that took me a while to come to.  At church that evening we were all alike in our search for God, for something larger than ourselves.  And it seemed possible for us all to find it and each other in the spirit that was sweeping its way through the chapel and whipping itself into a frenzy through song.

When the concert was over, I felt uplifted, and more than anything, I felt courageous.  I might have even summoned the balls to schmooze a little bit.  But not too much.  “After all,” I told Andre later, “I get the impression Jesus wasn’t great at schmoozing either.”

“Yes,” he replied.  “Thing might’ve turned out differently if he had been.”

“Yes, but it all worked out in the end, didn’t it?”

Yes, it did.  And it will for me, too.

While I struggled to pursue a career in New York, my mother has emerged as a hot commodity in the Ashtabula County community theatre scene.  Known for portraying a range of characters, including, but not limited to, Clairee in Steel Magnolias, Vi in Footloose, and (in sari and full body makeup) the Ayah in Secret Garden.  Twice.  My mother has fully reclaimed my old stomping grounds, and she relates the latest news more diligently than I maintain this blog.

I am frequently reminded of my humble beginnings.  And as I traverse the nation with a Disney mega-musical,  I am struck by both the similarities and the differences between the two stages.

1.  Call times.  In Ashtabula I arrived at the theatre roughly an hour before the show began.  I have no idea what I did with my time.  Oh, wait, yes, I do.  We would have enormous cast volleyball games that would end when the stage manager called half hour.  Then presumably I would chew the fat with my friends while “getting ready.”  I would have had one costume that most likely belonged either to me or one of my sisters.  My makeup would have been an exaggeration of my street makeup.  The show always started on the stroke of eight.

At Mary Poppins I roll in approximately three seconds before half hour, which is absolutely the latest I can get to the theatre without being fined by Actors’ Equity.  Even though I have a full makeup plot, 2 layers of costumes, a corset, a microphone and a wig to put on, I rarely start actually getting ready until 15 minutes before curtain.  Which brings me to my next point:

2.  Places.  In Ashtabula stage managers called places by physically announcing entering the dressing room and bellowing “Places!”  Maybe my memory fails me and they called it through a closed door… was there a speaker system?  Anyway, we got an inordinate amount of calls.  They would call half hour, then 15, then 10, then 5, then places.  Each time everyone in the dressing room would respond in unison:  “Thank you, ten” or “Thank you, five,” et cetera.  This was to assure the SM that we had heard the call.

At Poppins we get 15, then 5, then places.  The announcements are made over a loudspeaker, so nobody calls out “Thank you, five!”  If only we did.  Every night at least one person will go, “Did we get 15?”  At five minutes I throw on my robe, wander into wigs to get my hair on, then meander backstage, where my dresser zips, latches and prods me into costume.  Places is usually called as I’m throwing my second skirt over my head.  I pin on my hat, grab my flask (it’s a prop, people), and join the other actors onstage.  Without fail we are left to chat for several minutes until stage management is sure we’re all there.  Most Broadway shows start a healthy six minutes past the hour.

3.  The cast.  Once the show is underway, the basic experience is the same.  Doing a musical in the summer at 16 is more fun, of course, than doing a musical as a job.  But there’s a similar amount of onstage flubs and backstage tomfoolery.   It’s got to be one of the most fun jobs in the world, even if I literally have to don a monkey suit to do it.   But whether you’re doing it for a paycheck or doing it for fun, the people are the same.

When I was considering/trying to leave the business, a friend of mine said that I belong among literary people.  When she said it I agreed with her.  But as the days went on, her comment  stuck in my head.  It didn’t sit well with me.  I knew in my soul that I belonged with theatre people.  I belong to a tribe of loud, irreverent, emotional, playful, whimsical people.  They speak a language I have always understood, embodying a type of craziness that to me needs no explanation.  We’re a lovable, free-spirited, and slightly obnoxious breed.  Most of the time, we’re damn funny.   And just as Penny was Desmond’s “constant” on Lost, keeping him tethered no matter what the year or place, theeatre people are my constant, whether I’m on stage in Portland, Costa Mesa, or Ashtabula, Ohio.

The time between booking a job and the “first day of school,” as we say in the business, is the time to savor.  We relish the security employment provides in the brief period before disappointment, compromise or just plain drudgery kicks in– the inevitable byproduct of any steady job, no matter what the field.  In my case reality began to set in as I kissed my husband goodbye one rainy afternoon at the Rochester airport.

I had flown to Rochester to see him in The Music Man before I departed for tour.  So had the majority of my family.  The weekend had been one small celebration after another, starting with the Royal Wedding the morning I left and ending with drinks with Rochester-based friends.  In short, I was exhausted.  My cold had re-emerged to the extent that I could no longer pretend it was allergies.  After a year of unemployment, my body was failing me just when I need to be well.  Very frustrating.

My flight was relatively uneventful, except that I had to check my yoga mat (?) and was seated across from the latrine during the Rochester-DC leg.  (I moved.)  My luggage, yoga mat and I arrived intact at the Columbus airport, grabbed some Wendy’s right before they closed, and hopped a cab to the Doubletree, where I was greeted with the customary oven-warmed  cookie.

Once off the elevator and onto the 9th floor, I opened the door to my room.  It was huge.  Cavernous, in fact, with an enormous king-size bed, a dinky coffee maker and cupboards that wouldn’t open.  I was later to discover that the tub wouldn’t drain and I couldn’t get cell service, but I didn’t know that at the time.  All I knew was that I couldn’t possibly fill the space.  I gazed out the window at the rain-swollen river and felt empty.  I longed for my cozy one-bedroom with the bathroom tile I hated and the over-active radiator.  I longed for the full-size bed that doesn’t fit Andre and me, and I longed for my Cuisinart coffee pot.  For the millionth time I missed my cat.

Since I wasn’t feeling well, I immediately hit the hay– the hay in this case being the starched sheets and lumpy pillows of my oversized bed.  As I huddled under the covers– I had to huddle because the room was insistently cold– I put a name to what I was feeling.  There, in my home state of Ohio, surrounded by Midwesterners and theatre people, I was homesick.

I was innocently taking Pilates today when the teacher asked, “Anyone watching the Royal Wedding?”

“I am!”  I cheerfully volunteered from my mat.

I don’t know if she heard me or not.  “Ugh,” the teacher continued, “Who really cares, right?”

Excuse me.  Who cares?!  Why shouldn’t we care?    I wanted to ask this woman what her tastes usually encompass.  Perhaps she likes to watch a bunch of self-absorbed assholes make fools of themselves on the Jersey Shore?  Maybe she likes to watch desperate women prostitute themselves on The Bachelor?  Or, not to be sexist, its lame-ass spin-off The Bachelorette?  Maybe she likes to watch stupid, spoiled brats careen over their ill-gotten empire on Keeping Up with the Kardashians?

I am so over people acting like they’re too cool for the Royal Wedding.  God forbid we should actually watch a real wedding, as opposed to one that’s been market-tested and  cleverly “unscripted,” appealing to our basest nature and a perverted sense of voyeurism.  God forbid people should enjoy watching something authentic.

Possibly you’re a cynical bastard and you’re thinking, “Kate and Wills are hardly authentic.”  And maybe that’s true.  But I doubt it.  But maybe they’ve been betrothed since they were tots, and we just found out about it.  Maybe Kate’s been market tested and approved.  Maybe Kate met a certain standard Wills always held dear– you know, her parents held jobs, apparently she hails from a lower social class and she looks damn good in a bikini.    But that’s not the point.    The point is that a royal wedding is one of the few surviving bastions of English culture. This is a culture dating back centuries, and this wedding means something.  If you’re English and you hate the royals because they use up a lot of tax dollars, I get it.   I mean, in America we got rid of the monarchy for a reason.  But I’m curious to see what dress Kate chose, to watch a ceremony at the beautiful Westminster Abbey, to see street shots of London in April, to discover which traditions they embrace and which ones they don’t.  The English upper crust still epitomizes good taste and breeding.   And, please, people will be talking about it for months.  If I’m lucky Fashion Police will do a segment on it later that night.

I gave a shopping tour a couple of weeks ago to some actual British citizens, and I asked them if they were interested in the Royal Wedding.  They gave the usual, too-cool-for-school response, “Oh, no one cares back home.  I mean, we like Kate, but we just can’t be bothered.”   You know what they did give a shit– I’m sorry, “bother” about?  Fucking Dash.  In case you don’t know, that’s Kim Kardashian’s boutique on Spring Street in Soho.  So I took them there, we waited in line to get in, and they all purchased Dash t-shirts for $60 a pop.  SIXTY DOLLARS for t-shirts made in Thailand for twelve cents by children who will go blind at 6.   Unfortunately, that’s probably a truer rendering of British “culture.”  So if my biggest sin is getting up at 4 in the morning to watch an actual, real-life wedding with my sister,  I’m fine with that.

"Where'd you get that sweater, hipster cat?" "A thrift store."

In spite of (or perhaps because of) its hipster reputation, I really don’t like Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  I much prefer the tree-lined brownstone streets of Fort Greene or the historical charm of Brooklyn Heights.  Williamsburg appears to me like a conglomeration of late-model trailer homes thrown together under the occasional unattractive awning.  Even the buildings of posh Bedford Avenue are an aesthetic disappointment, regardless  of the boutiques and  coffee shops within them.  Additionally  Williamsburg  is peopled by “artists” living off their trust funds and the sort of ass-less metrosexual who doesn’t shave but can discern the difference between over-priced olive oils.  The English have a term for guys like this:  wankers.

But I frequently find myself there, despite its shortcomings, because Williamsburg is where smart people live.  It’s a veritable colony of people who pride themselves on their intellectual curiosity, their off-beat tastes and their artistic endeavors, however strange and/or ill-fated.  And those are my kind of people.  Williamsburg in the one place where men don’t make passes at girls without glasses.

So today I board the G train yet again, this time heading to BARC, which stands for Brooklyn Animal Rescue Coalition.  BARC has the most hassle-free volunteer policy in New York City.  By simply signing a waiver, I am approved to volunteer in the cat loft.  Yes, this Williamsburg shelter is so hip that even the cats live in a loft.   My job as a volunteer will be  to “socialize,” or play with, the cats.

Lately I’ve been missing cats in my life.  Pants was shipped off to my friend’s parent’s house in Long Island when my husband and I moved into our current apartment.  There, she is brushed daily and fed slices of beef.  I fear she has forgotten all about me… and anyway, the family is moving to Indiana, which is too far away to visit without seeming maniacal.  But I feel maniacal.  I practically moan with envy when I see someone walking a dog.  When visiting friends who have cats, I have to resist the urge to smother the cat with love.  I’m turning into Lenny from Of Mice and Men.  And several weeks ago I found myself on You Tube at 11:00 PM on a Friday night looking at cat videos.  While drinking!  This is not healthy.

Scientists have proven that pets reduce stress and lengthen lives. Or maybe they’re in the process of proving that or something.  Whatever.  Can I sign up for that study? “I have to have a cat,” I’d explain to my husband and the co-op board.  “It’s for science.”

For whatever reason, I have an overwhelming desire to play with animals right now.  I know I’m a more relaxed, centered, playful person when I have an animal to take care of, who loves me no matter what, and who does cute things.  They just bring me so much joy, dammit.

So today I  don shed-friendly clothing and head into Billyburg to socialize hipster cats.  If I get scratched, that’s fine.  I’ll display it proudly like a war wound.   If fur somehow finds its way onto every article of clothing I own, that’s cool.   I need  my kitty fix, AND I will be performing a public service by volunteering.  Right?  And who knows– maybe next week I’ll show up to walk a dog.

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