Cap’n with little boy from the audience

Oh, my, it’s been a week. I haven’t written for several reasons: busy, unexpected things coming up, and unknown things in the air, but here it is. It’s a long one.

The job that was supposed to start Wednesday started Friday, and I will get to that in a moment. Monday, I did laundry, shopping, basic stuff. Looked at some more apartments. Reached out to some more real estate agents. What’s become the usual for now.

Tuesday, I met my wonderful friend Deb for lunch, but before that a former student now buddy, Bruce, reached out, so I met him first. Tuesday turned into a system of dates. Starbucks with Bruce, where we caught up a bit. Bruce works for Delta and gets to fly around the world for free. He’s a talented young actor moving to the city eventually but has a place to stay now. Then I met Deb, who is a former teacher, turned dear friend, and now colleague. She is the most generous soul I’ve ever met, and we will be working on a staged reading project in September.

After Deb I was supposed to meet Bruce again for more shenanigans, but he’d left to explore the Drama Bookstore. I had desires to go to the World Market and stock up on green apple licorice and we agreed to meet on 18th street, but when I got off the train there the sky opened and it began to pour. At first, I thought it would feel good, I was so hot, but nope, it was the kind of rain that soaks your shoes in an instant, and I hate wet Birkenstocks. They get squishy.

I stood under scaffolding until Bruce joined me. Then we both stood under scaffolding, waiting for the rain to stop. After about 40 minutes, we decided to call it for the time being. He’d bought tickets to SpongeBob SquarePants, the Musical, and in the spirit of saying “yes” to everything I’d agreed to go. So, we made our way home to change and re-meet for the show at 7:00pm. Going to a Broadway show on a Tuesday night is so unlike me, but I am determined to do things I wouldn’t have done before. And Bruce had gotten cheap tickets. I am so glad I went.

First, it was in The Palace Theatre. In my second life in NY, while working on my doctorate at NYU, my specific interest was the performance history of New York City in the nineteenth century. This means mostly vaudeville. At the time in the 90s the old Broadway theatres were decaying and used as X-rated theatres. Disney came in and revamped most of them and that’s why we have the Broadway we have today. A few of the theatres collapsed while they were in the process of being renovated. (I remember there was a theatre near The Amsterdam where Willem Defoe was doing The Hairy Ape for the Wooster Group, and the place collapsed soon after they opened. It was a hole while I was here after that. I will have to go see what they put up in its place.) I used to take the free Broadway tour offered by the Business Improvement District (BID) almost every Saturday, I really got to know the buildings. We would tour buildings before their renovation, so you could see the change. The tour was my only previous time in The Palace. I then taught a class at NYU called Topics in Performance: Times Square Then and Now. I had a book with pictures of the theatres in their prime, and I went around the city taking pictures in their current conditions to show the class side by side comparisons.

As a child my father, who is a trained singer, shared a love of old movies with me. Abbott & Costello, all the old backstage musical movies like Singing in the Rain, Gypsy, The Al Jolson Story. My dissertation topic at NYU had been about all these backstage plays and musicals and I spent about three years collecting every play, movie and VHS tape I could to write about the representation of actors by actors in the theatre. Anyone who’s ever studied any of vaudeville knows that the goal for every performer was to “Play the Palace”!

So here we were. The seats Bruce had gotten us were a box. I’ve never sat in a box before. Two chairs in a little carved out space, high up house right. The Palace is also a nosebleed theatre. The audience mezzanines are stacked on top of each other without much of a rake, so you really are high up, looking straight down.

As for the show itself, I met my friend Amy later in the week and she said she had trouble caring about the characters, and I get that. But, if you are at all familiar with the TV series, it was quite fun. I had been subjected to nonstop SpongeBob for about six years during my boys’ childhood. I remember having to listen to DVDs over and over during long car trips. So, I enjoyed it. The young man playing SpongeBob, was incredible. And it was fun. The audience was full of children who screamed with delight at every joke and at the end streamers and beach balls were thrown to them to take home as souvenirs. It was all great spectacle.

Bruce raised an interesting point. In the plot, the town of Bikini Bottom is threatened by a volcano, and as they decide what to do they reveal the worst of “humanity”. Some of the townspeople form a mob to chase out the one “alien” amidst them who is also their potential savior. (The one mammal amongst the fish life. If you don’t know, SpongeBob takes place under the sea, everyone is a form of sea animal except for a scientific squirrel.) They turn against each other. A cult forms. Extreme thinking happens. Bruce had seen the show a few years ago in Chicago and wondered if the script had been updated as a reaction to current times, citing the xenophobia.

Reflecting about Avenue Q, which opened in 2003, also has themes of homophobia, and racism – in the form of difference (Monsters are excluded). Most theatre explores issues like these, I think we’re just more aware of them now. A high school FB friend (read: we don’t talk, and she’s on the other side) posted a video a few weeks back that has bothered me deeply. I didn’t watch the whole thing, but it started with one of those long haired grizzly men who were on some reality show with the word “duck” in it. (Why in God’s name anyone would take advice from these people I have not idea!) He’s walking in the country alongside a barb wire fence and talking to camera about how he believes everybody is inherently evil and then goes on to support the Administrations immigration policies. That’s where I stopped watching. The few times I’ve argued with people about this they keep insisting that people can come here legally (which they can’t) so putting children in cages is okay.

The core difference in belief; that everyone is inherently bad, or everyone is inherently good is an enigma to me. If you believe the first, you must be terrified of every stranger. If you believe the second, you are open and trusting giving people the benefit of the doubt. Of course, I don’t necessarily mean this in the binary. At least in terms of believing everyone is good wholesale. I believe everyone is inherently good, but flawed, and circumstances can lead to bad choices, or perspectives.

This musing has colored my nostalgia as I look back at my two previous trips here. The first, when I was 23, I don’t remember feeling fear. (Although I had been violently mugged a month before moving here the guy –who was white– pounded on my face to the point my teeth cut through my cheek — I was a bit on edge.) I do remember being on guard. And I did witness crimes. One night, walking in Times Square – which was raunchy back then – I saw two tall transvestite prostitutes bullying an Asian man, telling him loudly to leave them alone, but they had their hands in his bag and he was fending them off.

Another time, late one night on the subway I saw a group of young black men assault a young white man, whipping a towel in his face trying to provoke a reaction. He sat still, looking straight ahead, ignoring them with tears of humiliation building in his eyes until they left the car.

One time in the West 4th subway station, between levels, I saw a group of commuters hustling up a staircase when suddenly a man in a trench coat flew through the air and landed on the concrete on his back, hitting his head (I can still hear the smack it  made in my head). My friend ran to find a payphone while I staunched the bleeding with Kleenex, begging him not to move. He’d been knocked over by a young woman chasing another young woman who had ripped her earring out of her ear and fled.

I had a friend at the time who had done a summer school acting program in NYC while we were still undergraduates in Salt Lake. She told me she’d twisted her ankle in class, and from then on felt like prey when out on the streets. That image stayed with me. Survival of the Fittest mindset to make it in the big city. At the time, everyone thought of NYC as extremely dangerous. Coded within that images of gangs, people of color, thug stereotypes, etc.

Statistically, NYC’s crime rate has fallen exponentially since those times in the late 80’s, but this time in NYC I don’t feel fear at all, and I think a lot of it is my years in the study of dehumanization and the determination to look everyone in the eye and make every connection I can. I have hopefully developed the ability to erase the social narrative placed upon us by the media and recognize the truth of people at their best. At least I want to do that.

To that end, I have been determined to give a dollar or two to the homeless as often as I can. Last year in Lyon my sons both felt the imperative to give a euro to any homeless people on the streets. (And there were a lot from Syria.) There was no way I could explain why they shouldn’t. Realizing this, I decided to take a page from their book. I carry any extra dollars I have in an outside pocket of my purse, so I don’t have to get out my wallet and dig. Obviously, there are days I can’t give to everyone who asks. The other day on the subway there were at least six or seven men coming through the car asking for change. My philosophy is to try to give at least one person, maybe two, if I can. And if not, to look them in the eye when I say “sorry”. And maybe offer a protein bar or something instead. I’m doing it for karma.

Last week, coming back from the Bronx, a man started his plea on a car, he was articulate and friendly (as opposed to a woman who ran through a car yesterday simply yipping at the top of her lungs), but as he walked the length of the car a man in the back corner, I couldn’t see, started yelling at him, “Don’t be taking these people’s money, you are lying, you are LYING, you ain’t homeless!” The begging man ignored him for a bit, but then added a few good-humored lines to his pitch “You do you, brother!” This had the effect of getting him more money, I believe, than he would have without the antagonist berating him.

So. The job. A dear friend with a big heart had offered me a place in her company last week, and it took quite awhile for the deal to come through, but I finally started Friday on a temporary basis. I have been very torn by this. One of the inner demons I wrestle with is the one that tells me I’m never quite good enough for things I strive for. As a young overweight actor in undergrad, I shared a lead role in a double-cast production for the senior thesis. The female director told me “You’ll have to lose weight”, which my young eager actor self agreed to, but a short time later became incensed realizing that the woman playing the same role in alternate productions had not been told to do anything to change. Just accept the role. I think I was also upset because I knew I was the better actor. But having the kind of confidence, or even saying that aloud is not something I am comfortable with. At least not then.

I remember one night during the run one of male actors (who got to be in every production, only females were in alternate ones), leaned to me backstage and whispered, “You’re really lucky, every night you go on the audience is really responsive, but on nights when D____ goes on they’re dead.” I turned to him and replied “Luck, has nothing to do with it.” D_____ was a black hole on stage. I could feel the audience the moment I entered and played them to my side.

So fast forward, 30 years. I have tons of experience and a PhD, I am good at what I do, I take pride in my work, and yet nothing seems to come easily. Nothing ever has. Every time I moved to NYC before I had a job within a couple of weeks. The first impression I was given with the enthusiasm from the women staffing agents was very heartening, but the lack of acquiring a job has been disheartening. “What’s wrong with me?” And the answer? Age? I don’t know. Maybe. This is not a new feeling, I have been suffering from it for the past five years on the academic market.

Which is to say, I really appreciate the lengths my friend has gone to getting me a job, but at the same time I felt a little like a charity case, that can’t do this on her own. On the other hand, it’s a good job, and I feel confident I can be good at it.

That confidence rose after my first day at work Friday. I went in a bit nervously, but quickly realized that I am good at whatever I do, and I am smart, and competent, and my age is a good thing – because I am experienced. There’s not a lot I haven’t done, and I am good in situations where you need to figure something out.

The office itself is great. After nine years working in the failing Sindecuse Health Center with a printer that’s over 15 years old and won’t ever be replaced, with failing laptops, everything done on the cheap, and putting my own money into buying props often because the process of getting permission to spend $50.00 was so arduous. Every semester I would be in charge catering for two events and the budget was so small there was immense pressure on getting enough food for all the students. One time I went $15 over budget and my boss came and took items to return to the store (creamer, napkins, chips). How stingy is that?

Each desk in this new place is an automated height desk so you can stand and sit as you please. My first job was stocking the kitchen and the office supplies, and no one was looking over my shoulder to micro-manage. I was just happy to be busy. If it works out and everyone is happy, it should become a full-time position in the end of August.

In the meantime, I also passed my UN proofreading test. The notice said I had made it to the next stage, and they would contact me after they’ve looked at all the candidates. Of course, that is a temporary job, but it might be there if this one doesn’t work out. And how cool to work at the UN for the General Assembly?

Lastly, with the contract for this position in hand, I applied for an apartment. I am now waiting to see if I’m approved – I’m not a typical case for a renter, but I have excellent credit, so I’m hoping. Money is getting tight. If everything goes well I hope to move at the end of the week. I hope to find out tomorrow.

Wish me luck.

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