Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"Hidden Power"

A recollection in which the chronicler comes through in the clutch. *  

* A Collectors’ Item.  Extremely rare.

I am luxuriating in the tub, revisiting Inherit The Wind (a play written by Lawrence and Lee, dramatizing the Scopes “monkey” trial) when a delighting memory floats up, reminding me of a time when I was I inordinately courageous.  (A good bath can do that sometimes.  But it has to be precisely the right temperature.  Is my theory.  The less rewarding options:  Being scalded, bored, or you are now simply clean.)

And now, the memory.

I am waiting in the dark, standing in the wings at UCLA, where I – a less than averagely mature twenty-one year old who has never spent his summers anywhere else but at camp, have flown to Los Angeles to attend an eight-week course, billboarded:  The Bertolt Brecht Summer Theater Workshop. 

I am now the-next-to-the-next person to audition, that audition to determine the casting assignments for the workshop’s numerous (four) productions.  I have prepared a speech from Inherit the Wind.  (Hence the revisiting recollection in the bathtub.)

I can feel the intensifying knots in my stomach, my legs, not nearly as supportive as I would like them to be.  (Unnecessary Confession {to regular readers}:  I am not, by nature someone who readily submits themselves to “gut-checking” situations.) 

Before the summer, I had applied to UCLA, but had I never heard back from them concerning my status.  My great friend Alan (who also helped prepare me for my audition) had volunteered to call the school on my behalf, discovering, and subsequently reporting to me, that I had indeed been accepted.   

And now, there I am.  Standing alone in the wings.  Waiting to go on.

There were maybe sixty of us all together, candidates from around the country (though mostly from California) soon to be assigned our roles – large, medium and heartbreakingly tiny. 

Our audition slots have been determined alphabetically according to our surnames.  Before being called, we are penned together in a brightly lit, assembly room, our collective anxiety corrosive enough to peel the paint off of the walls. 

We had paid to come there, so there was no sending us home.  But we were actors.  And we wanted big parts.

While awaiting our turn, we were required to fill out triplicating forms (one for each of the three judges) requesting basic biographical identification:  Name, height, weight, hair color, eye color, acting experience, miscellaneous. 

Partly from nerves, and partly seeking some advantaging edge, I was compelled to somehow distinguish myself in these meat-and-potatoes information forms.  Indirectly – which was the only available option – I wanted to alert them to exactly whom they were dealing with.

On one form, I wrote down:  “Brown hair, brown eyes, sore feet.”   On another I wrote:  “Brown hair, brown, eyes, plaid shirt.”  And on the third one, I responded:  “Brown hair, brown eyes, and not one muscle in my entire body.”  (When I later came on stage to audition, I heard appreciative chuckles emanating from the dark.)

Completing their performance, the auditoner surnamed in the M’s, N’s, or O’s, heads offstage, passing the next candidate, whose last name alphabetically immediately preceded mine.   

I am now officially


It is only when the auditioner directly before me is in full thespianic intensity, that it suddenly – and inexplicably for the first time – occurs to me that the audition piece I have selected is, in part at least, a courtroom cross-examination, requiring, therefore, a mandatory second participant! 

Why had I not noticed that before?  I mean this was a “Five Alarm” disaster!  I could simply not do what I had prepared to do without another actor up there, helping me out.  When we would practice, that used to be Alan.  But Alan was back in Toronto.  And I was alone in the wings, on the precipice of delivering a two-person audition…


I started to panic.  And then, I did something I had never done before and have rarely done since.

In my extreme agitation, which habitually involves my curling up in a ball and moaning quietly to myself, I instead…

Solicited the assistance of a total stranger.

I accosted to the auditioner behind me – a man bearing a physical resemblance to an unfriendly block of concrete – and I said,

“Will you help me?  (POINTING TO THE SCRIPT)  I need you read this part.”

I would describe the man’s response to my request, but when you’re all tied up with yourself – or at least when I am – I mean, I am steamrollering here.  I have no idea how he reacted.  I assume he was thinking about himself.  Now, being commandeered by a frenzied stranger, I don’t know… maybe I just scared him. 

But in any event, he consented. 

When I heard the word “Next!”, I walked unsteadily onto the stage, accompanied by a man – holding my script – whom I had never seen before in my life. 

I introduced myself.  Adding something like, “I don’t know this guy.  He just said he would read the other part.” 

Then, taking a deep, ostensibly relaxing breath, my fate in my hands and the hands of…I have no idea who he is…

I began my audition.

Things turned out well.  I got cast in three shows out of four – one of them in a semi-leading role – and I was the only auditioner who received applause.  But none of that – at least in this telling – is the point.    

At the “Moment of Truth”, I had successfully come through, not in my performance which was fine, but by, at “Crunch Time”, having the inner “I-don’t-know-what” to do what was necessary to bail myself out.

I did not know I had it in me. 

But apparently – and it brought a retroactive smile to my face while I was bathing –

I do.

Oh, yeah.  And if by some crazy fluke he’s reading this, guy who read with me?

Thank you.
There was recent mention of my deleting "Span Entries"  What are "Span Entries"?  And how do you delete them.  I think I delete all my incoming mail stuff every day.  Is there something more I need to do?

Monday, September 29, 2014

"First Degree Confusion (Or Is It Third Degree?)"

It has been said that English is a difficult language to learn because of all the exceptions. 

Consider spelling.

“Cough” is “o-u” and “g-h”, but “coffee”, which sounds the same, has an “o” and an “f-f.”  Both words making the same “aw” sound as “paw” which is “a-w.”  And what about “elephant”?  It’s the same sound, but it’s “p-h.”

Then there’s the silent “h.”  I say, if a letter’s going to be silent, it shouldn’t be in there at all.  A silent letter should remain on the bench, till it’s actually needed, sitting out for “honest”, in the game for “hat.”  (Unless you’re a Cockney, in which case it’s “’at”, a participating “h” sending an apostrophe in to pinch-hit)

Is your head throbbing?  Mine is.  And English is ostensibly my first language.  Man!  Look at that word!  Two “g’s.”  But one of them sounds like a “j.”

The problems go beyond spelling and pronunciation anomalies.  A while back, I became educated concerning the usage of term “Defcon Five”, which I inaccurately designated and the most serious “Defcon” of them all, when in reality, that’s “Defcon One.”

It’s an explainable – though hardly justifiable – mistake, owing to inadequate research on my part (Read: None) combined with some sloppy logic.  Since “Five” is a larger number than “One”, I (sloppily) logically assumed it reflected a more egregious level of “Defconicity.”

Why did I assume that?

It begins with “First Degree Murder.”

In “Murder”, “First Degree” is the worst kind of murder you can commit, involving willful premeditation and homicidal intent. 

(WARNING TO PEOPLE CONSIDERING “FIRST DEGREE MURDER”:  Consult state laws for variations before proceeding.  You may think, “What’s the worst that could happen? – I get ‘Life’” – when, in reality, the worst that could happen is you get “Death.”  This can be a really costly miscalculation.  You’re welcome.)

But wait.  “First Degree Murder” suggests that you should have known it was “Defcon One”, the “One’s” in both cases being the worst. 

Correct, Blue Writing Person.  It turns out, however, it is not as simple as that.  

Google over to “Burns”, which, like “Murder”, is also delineated by “degrees”, and you discover an entirely different – and discombobulating – story.

“First Degree Burns”, we are told, are the least terrible of the hierarchically categorized burns.  Sunburn is a “First Degree Burn.”  “Second Degree Burns” are awful.  And “Third Degree Burns” – I could barely look at the picture.

Are you sensing the difficulty here?  Going by “First Degree Murder”, I would have determined it was “Defcon One”, both of them being the worst.  But then there’s the “Burns”, wherein a “First Degree Burn” is “Don’t bother coming to the hospital.”

Not angling for exoneration here, but tell me.  What is a poor “Defcon” determiner to think?

What appears to be going on is a complete absence of classificational uniformity.  In “Gradations of Seriousness” “Murder” and “Burn” characterizations proceed in entirely opposite directions, “Murder” going “from ‘Three’ down to ‘One’”, and “Burns” going “from ‘One’ up to ‘Three.’”

Cancer, I didn’t even Google, for fear I might recognize something I have.  But I know that the “Fourth Stage” is the most life-imperiling variety of cancer.  Thereby compounding my confusion even further. 

They don’t even have “Fourth Degree Murder.”  What would that even be?

“I said hello to him and he died.”

The lesson, I now know, is:  “Assume Nothing.”  “Fourth Stage Cancer” is horrible.  “Defcon Four”, – I mean you keep an eye on it, but if you’ve got tickets to a ballgame, and you go. 

“Defcon Five”? 

It’s two rungs below “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”  (And I made it the worst!)

The Thing to Remember:  If you’re not certain about something, look it up. 

That, for me, is First Class advice.

Wait!  First Class travel is “Top-of-the-Line.” 

But it’s “Third Degree Burns”?

And don’t get me started on,

“How are you feeling?” 

“I’m a little under par.”

In golf, where the term originates, “Under par” is good.  “Under par’s” what you’re shooting for.  In health?  It’s a little below average. Virtually synonymous with “So-so.”

Somebody needs to coordinate these things.  Unless they’ve been made deliberately confusing so that the people who know English can torture the people who are trying to learn it.

Which in my view is just mean.