Sometimes it’s just you and the cat.

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My girlfriend is away.

The talented thing she is, she’s off rehearsing a play, doing what she wants to do, living the dream, etc, etc.  The only unfortunate thing is, it is away.  Some 2,500 miles and two time zones away.  So it’s just me and the cat for about two months.

Sure, we talk on the phone, and we’re texting every day, but alas, her smiling visage no longer graces the capacious rooms of our castle home.

Therefore, I am getting A LOT of work done.

It’s not that I don’t get work done when she’s here, but when she’s not here, boy howdy!  From the time I wake up until my eyes close on my pillow at night, I’m doing something or other:  I’m writing, I’m transferring my writing from my notebook to my computer, I’m corresponding via email about my writing, I’m recording audiobooks, I’m editing audiobooks previously recorded, I’m working on the musical I’m writing, I’m corresponding with my writing partner about said musical, I’m traveling to my day job, or I’m working at my day job.

There are only MINUTES of my waking hours when I’m not doing one of these things, and I usually watch Doctor Who during that time.  I’m a very busy boy.

If Becca was here, there would be less of this, and more of canoodling and general nesting activities with my loved one.  More time spent on eating, sitting together, engaging in conversation, etc.

What’s been nice in this time of separation, however, is the Travel Notebook.

OH YES.  CAPITAL LETTERS.

The Travel Notebook was a BRILLIANT idea I had (thank you very much) the last time she was away.  I bought a small, pretty, hard-backed notebook for her to take with her on her travels.  For every day she was away, I wrote a prompt for her to complete.  “Describe where you are at this exact second.”  “What was the most interesting thing you saw today?”  “If our cat was there, what would she be doing?” and so on.  

Since she had it the last time she was away, I was deemed the notebook-holder this time.  When I visit her in the middle of her time away, we’ll trade, and I’ll give her the notebook.

It’s nice, and it keeps us thinking about each other.  It also provides a fun diary on which we can look back once together and see what the heck we were up to.

Until then, though, it’s just me and the cat.

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Sometimes your cat is a huntress

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It was a normal day.

Oof – what a way to start a story.  So rife with possibilities.  Anyway –

It really was a normal day.

Becca is off being a time traveler for the next couple weeks with her family five hours ahead in the UK, so it’s just me and Franny here at home.

Nothing too major was happening in the afternoon, so I went into the closet to get some audiobook recording knocked out.  A few times during my half-hour or so in there, I heard Franny meow out in the apartment proper.  I thought nothing of it and kept recording.

Then, I was startled by scratching at the closet door.  Oh no, I thought.  What the heck?  The cat was meowing nonstop and scratching at the door, so she obviously wanted my attention.

I opened the door to see the puss sitting on the floor with pride, a dead mouse in front of her.  Using her paw, she pushed it toward me gently.  Giving another purr, she looked into my eyes and waited for a response.

A few things went through my mind:

1. What the hell.

2. That’s a dead mouse.  Where did that come from?

3. Did she really kill this thing?  I mean, she’s killed flies and roaches before, but this is a MOUSE.

4. Oh my god.  She’s so cute.  She’s presenting it to me.  She wants me to have it.

This final thought taking precedence in my head, I praised her.  I mean, heck, she just killed a pest!  Huzzah, little Amazon!  Huzzah!

Out of meat, and with a cat that hates cat treats, I gave her some catnip to occupy her while I went to get paper towels with which to dispose of the catch.

When I came back from the kitchen, Franny was sauntering toward me with the mouse in her mouth.  It may sound weird, but she was ridiculously cute with the thing hanging from her pard.

Then she started to play with it.  She lay down and began throwing the animal up into the air and batting it with her paws.  I politely asked her to stop (also I made her).  Annoyed, but compliant, she set it down on her scratchpad, then turned away.  I picked up the dead animal and wrapped it in paper.  I disposed of the thing, and that’s when the fun started.

Franny had no idea where it went.

She was bereft, to say the least.  She began to meow and circle the scratchpad.  She pawed at the spot where it once was.  She tried to flip the scratchpad over.  This went on for about ten minutes, so I decided I would help the girl out.  I titled the scratchpad on its side so she could see there was nothing under it.  The mouse was gone.  The search continued.  For another hour, she stalked the living room, looking behind items, looking under furniture, pawing at the scratchpad, and meowing up a storm.

Poor thing.

Eventually she gave up the hunt, and resigned to be ready for the next one.

(WHICH I HOPE NEVER HAPPENS.  LET’S NOT FORGET THERE WAS A MOUSE IN MY APARTMENT SOMEWHERE.)

The moral of the story, however, is that I have the best cat in the world, and she is a mighty huntress, and I feel safer knowing she’s guarding us from ferocious rodents.

Sometimes you name strangers’ cats.

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None of these cats are featured in this post. But boy, are they cute.

My girlfriend and I have three cats.

There’s the one who lives with us, the one that Becca adopted a few years ago.  She’s charming, moody, and snuggly.  The perfect cat.  She’s all we could ever want.

However, there are two more cats in our life:

1. Tito.  One day, as we were walking up our street, we saw a cute little black and white kitten sitting in an open window.  He was observant and curious, watching the world go by from the safety of an old Puerto Rican lady’s kitchen.  Tito, we named him.  Over the past year or so, we’ve watched this little kitten grow into a big kitten.  He’s one of our great joys of living here.  Every single day, every single time either of us passes that window, we look up.  About sixty percent of the time, we see Tito.  We get so excited that we even text each other when we see him.  No joke:  “Tito!!!” the text usually reads.  We’ve even started to imagine that he and Franny have begun a secret love affair, which brings me to:

2. Pouncival.  Early on in our residency at our Manhattan castle, we looked across the courtyard to see a stunning white cat seated on a window next to the fire escape.  This is Pouncival.  He is Franny’s actual boyfriend.  In the Moulin Rouge version of our lives, if Franny equals Satine, Pouncival is The Duke.  Tito is Christian.  Franny is nominally betrothed to the stunning coat and manicured nails of the gentleman across the way, but her heart belongs to the Puerto Rican street tough that may or may not show up from day to day.

This is how we pass the time, waiting until there are new cats for us to call our own.

Sometimes artists work weird jobs. A LOT OF THEM.

It is the distinct travesty of contemporary western culture that one requires, to live within the circle of accepted society and to function without fear of starvation, homelessness, or general indigence, MONEY.

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Ahh, the mere word conjures up a myriad of images and emotions within all of us.  We imagine it in abundance, we imagine it in scant.  We image ourselves with it, our neighbors with it, our loved ones with it, and we imagine all of them without.  We can visualize permutation after permutation of the spread of wealth across this great green globe, and we all have such strong opinions in its regard.

If you are one of the lucky few on this orb to have felt the call of beauty and creativity within, good on you.  We of the artistic ilk can only hope that one day our contributions will earn us enough MONEY that we feel a part of the team – Team Normalcy, Team Mainstream, Team Dollars, Team Pounds, Team Euros.  More often than not, however, this is not the case.  We have to supplement.

I know, in terms of my overall timeline, I’m not too far along.  Only twenty-eight years and some change have passed since I’ve been here.  Still, I’ve been working in the world of jobs for money’s sake for almost half that time.

It all started in high school.  Hardee’s Restaurant.  I woke up every morning at four a.m. to bake the biscuits on which the breakfast sandwiches would be served.  Before I left at noon, I would put in the first batch of fried chicken.  Those glorious salad days…

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I had other smaller jobs in high school, such as a week’s worth of work at a run-down music instrument store, a stint as a bridal shop living mannequin (oh yeah), and trumpeter and chorister for several local churches.  All for the sake of money.

I got to college in Philadelphia and found I had less time to work.  I was in a conservatory acting program, after all, which took up a sizable amount of my waking hours.  Somewhere in there, though, I found the time to work as concessionaire for a local theater, chorister for a professor’s church, and the occasional shift at Hardee’s when I came home after my freshman year.

Once I hit the end of my sophomore year, however, I stayed in the big city.  It was here that I acquired two separate jobs at almost the same time:  The first was as children’s train driver at the Philadelphia Zoo.  Wearing an engineer’s cap, I collected payment from parents, settled children onto the very small train, and squired them around the circular track, all the while scolding them for reaching out the car window or trying to escape altogether.  This job was also required to help out with the swan paddle boats, holding them steady as families stepped in and out at the dock.  It was not one of my favorites.  I quit after a month.

The second job in college was a winner, however – working retail at Adventure Aquarium.  It wasn’t that great to start, I’ll admit.  I hated being trapped behind a cash register all day while hordes of children brought up sticky stuffed dolphins to be paid for with smelly, wet bills.  The day arrived, however, when the manager asked if I wouldn’t mind working in the stock room.  OF COURSE, I answered.  Thus began two glorious years where I received and tagged shipments of toys, t-shirts, books, key chains, and all other manner of gift shop goods.

And here was the best part: the stock room of the gift shop was butt-up against the backstage area of the shark tank.  So while I listened to showtunes and broke down cardboard boxes, I got to watch sharks swimming around for eight hours a day.  Not too shabby, if I say so myself.

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Out of college, I started to get work as an actor, so thankfully my need for day jobs dwindled.  Still, I spent some time working in a theater box office and teaching audition classes to children.

Once I moved up to New York, however, I was back in the game.  My first job in the city was my all-time worst job.  Planet Hollywood, Times Square.  I applied for a position in the gift shop, now having substantial experience.  I was told they were all staffed up there, but could use someone on their Visa team.  What’s that, I asked.  After they explained it, I suppose I was desperate enough for cash that I said yes.  It was, after all, completely spelled out:

I was to stand at the entrance to Planet Hollywood, right before guests get on the elevators to go up to the restaurant.  I held a clipboard in my hand.  I was to ask the guests, “How many?”  This was a sly attempt to get them to think I was the host.  “Three,” perhaps they’d say.  “Great,” I’d reply.  “I can actually save you $15 each for a total of $45 off your meal today by signing up for our Planet Hollywood Rewards card.”  Then I’d whip out the clipboard, complete with the coupons I would give them once they filled out the credit card application.

Here’s where it got good:  “Oh no thanks, I don’t need a credit card.”  “It’s actually a rewards card,” I’d answer, “earning you points the more you use it.”  “So it’s like a points card.  But then why does it look like a credit card?”  “It’s sponsored by Visa.”  Oh, those sly devils…  Once I got them to fill out the CREDIT CARD APPLICATION (oy), I’d send them on their way up to the restaurant, earning a cool tenner for each one.

It never went like that.  I think in the four months I worked there, I only got two.  The rest of the time the incoming guests would yell at me for trying to trick them, or else ignore me entirely.

After I got out of that mess, I worked at a museum for a bit, an ice skating rink (oh yeah!), then held a string of administrative positions at various small businesses.  When one company offered me a full-time job as their receptionist, I ran away as fast as I could.  I couldn’t bear the thought of being tied down to that desk day-in and day-out, riding the subway at only the busy, crowded times, and having only a few hours in the evening to myself in which to ply my artistic trade.  I resolved to being poor.

In the midst of all this, I did what any normal poor, liberal-minded artist would do – I joined the Army and became a medic.  National Guard, actually.  Weekend warrior.  Good part-time gig with student loans wiped out and some extra cash in the bank.  And now I’m a nationally-certified EMT.  Which is weird.

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That basically brings me to the present, where I work primarily in house management for an Off-Broadway theater, charming the pants off old ladies every night, all the while telling them to sit down and shut up and to stop eating during the performance.

The newest undertaking in my I-need-to-earn-money-so-I-don’t-die job hunt is quite possibly the strangest – Audiobook narrator.  I hopped on the train when my girlfriend started doing it.  There’s a great website out there – acx.com – where indie publishers and self-published authors can get their books read by independent producers (moi).  You audition for the gig, and hopefully they pick you.  If they do, you sit in your little closet with your clothes piled around you, reading aloud into a fancy microphone a chapter at a time.  Then you upload the thing and, in theory, they approve it and you get the cash.

Here’s the unfortunate part – IT’S SO HARD!

I spend my days editing these chapters, getting rid of throat clears, lip smacks, background noise, and all other sound detritus to get to just my voice saying words.  There’s fancy software, there’s fancy plug-ins, and, at the end of the day, you just can’t get it all!  Eek!

How I feel in the voice-over closet.

How I feel in the voice-over closet.

Still, it’s a very weird wonderful line of work that combines two things I really like – acting and reading.

Who knows what the future will bring to me in re: day jobs.  What crazy line of work will I end up in next?  And will there ever come a day when I’m not doing odd jobs (literally)?

The world may never know.

What odd jobs does everyone else have???  What was the worst?

Sometimes eleven-year-old straight boys like listening to Doris Day.

The year is 1996.  I am a fifth-grade student at Fountaindale Elementary School.  Fifth grade was the last year before the jump up to middle school, so I was pretty hot shit as one of the senior elite.

I was on the television in every classroom every single morning with the morning announcements.  The Vice-Principal himself drove to my house to pick me up one snowy morning so I could make it on the air in time.  I was a big deal.

So when Mrs. Music Teacher (whose name I have long since forgotten) told the fifth-graders that we would be able to vote on the song we sing at elementary school graduation, I was ecstatic.  I’m Artie Sievers, I said to myself.  I’m le grand fromage.  I’ll pick out something and, of course, everyone will think it’s golden.

I began the search.

My taste in music as an eleven-year-old was not much different that it is today.  That is to say, I was a sixty-year-old man.  My cassette tape collection ranged from Elvis Presley to The Beach Boys to Tchaikovsky to Ray Stevens (yes, the comedian) to some choice musical soundtracks.  One of my most prized possessions, however, was a tape that, if memory serves, was simply titled “Hits of the 50’s.”  An auspicious album, to say the least.  On it were my rock-out jams: El Paso by Marty Robbins, The Battle of New Orleans by Johnny Horton, Mambo Italiano sung by Rosemary Clooney, and other gems.

One piece from that album, though, stuck out as a prime candidate for our fifth-grade graduation song: Doris Day’s Que Sera Sera (Whatever will be, will be).  This, I thought, is a masterpiece of tone.  This is what we want to communicate to the world: we leave elementary school behind to venture into the unknown.  We are scared and unsure, but whatever happens, happens.  We can’t control it, so let us not try.

My eleven-year-old mind exploded with genius.  I was so proud of myself for identifying this.  And – I remember thinking – the parents in the audience will love it!  It’s an old song, and all old people love old songs, right?  Oh, I was going to score some big points with this choice.

We were instructed to cue up our cassette tapes and bring them in to Music Class.  When the big day came, children filed into the room depositing their cassette tapes onto the table by the stereo in the front of the room.  I hadn’t bragged about my choice beforehand to anyone.  I thought I’d let it be a surprise.  I placed my tape with the others and took my seat in the brown vomit-colored risers.

Mrs. Music Teacher (whose only feature I can remember is a mop of purple hair on top of a teardrop face) played each cassette, one by one.  Some were good choices, I recall.  Some were ridiculous, heavy metal anthems that I’m not sure you could even find a choral arrangement for.  And some were flat-out bad.  I remember one kid brought in a recording of an instrumental piece.  All were contemporary music, though.  These children basically just brought in their favorite songs.  Anyway, finally the moment came when Mrs. MT placed my tape in the stereo.  I held my breath, waiting for the inevitable unanimous approval.

As the song started, however, I heard sniggers.  I heard mockery.  I heard all-out guffaws.  I heard “What the heck is this song?!”  I heard “This sounds like something my grandpa listens to!”  I heard “Turn it off!”  I heard “Who brought that in?  Who did it?  Huh?  Come one, who brought it?”

I opened my mouth to identify myself, but instead of doing so, I started laughing as well.  “Yeah, this is horrible,” I said to the kid next to me.  “Did you bring it in?”  The kid shook his head no.

Mrs. MT politely shushed us all and allowed the song to finish.  She betrayed no opinion on the material, but continued on with the next prospective selection.

When it was time to vote, nobody raised their hand for Que Sera Sera, including me.  In fact, a couple of kids still laughed when Mrs. MT held it up.

At the end of class, everyone went up and took back their cassettes.  I left the room without picking mine up.  A few days later I was able to snag it back when nobody was looking.

I don’t have it anymore, but I’d love to find the album again.  Still love those songs.  🙂

PS – The song we sang at our graduation was The Greatest Love of All.  Gag.

Sometimes there’s flirting in friendship.

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You guys, I met someone.

And sure, sure, I have a girlfriend.  I get it.

But this isn’t a romantic someone I met.  It may turn into a Friend.  That’s right – with a capital F.

WHAAA???

I’m twenty-eight years old.  I’m inching ever closer to that point where it’s hard to meet new people.

And sure, I work in the arts so I’m constantly meeting new people all the time.  But 99% of those people, although lovely, don’t ever transfer over into “Hey, let’s get together and hang out”-Land.

But there’s this boy.

I won’t go into where and how I know him lest I jinx it.  But things are clicking.  

Isn’t it funny how, most of the time, gaining a new friend is really like flirting?  You say things that may compliment the other person or speak to the other person’s strengths, gauging their reaction.  You laugh at things that might not be all that funny.  You go out of your way to speak to them.  You wonder what they think of you.  You’re flirting.

(Disclaimer – the image above is from the Wikipedia page on “flirting.”  I do not go out of my way to replace my gentleman’s shawl or to kiss his shoulder.  That would be another post altogether.)

Certainly, there are those times when things zap into existence and you find yourself in the middle of a friendship you never knew you were in.  This can happen with a relationship, too.  Oh, you say to yourself one day, I suppose we’re friends.  Or, I suppose we’re a couple now.  Other times, though, you need to break out that charm and flirt your butt off.

I don’t know if this will go anywhere.  Maybe I’ll get further into the trenches and discover and awful secret about him.  Maybe he’ll end up being abusive or doesn’t actually take showers.  Maybe he keeps lawn flamingos filled with urine scattered throughout his apartment.  Maybe he’s just a big jerk.

Who knows?  But who ever knows?  Isn’t that what flirting is all about?  What dating is all about?  Let’s figure this person out; let’s see if they’re a good fit for me.  And then, when they turn out to be a nutjob, dump ’em by the side of life’s road wrapped in a garbage bag and speed away down the highway.

Until I see those flamingos, though, I shall continue to flirt.  

Sometimes you have a bench. And it’s all yours. And it’s amazing.

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In the American Museum of Natural History, there is a bench.

This is my bench.

(Pay no attention to the photograph above.  That’s not my bench.  My bench is so much more awesome than that bench.)

My bench is the best bench.  It is not a fancy bench, high-backed or elaborately carved. It is not an artsy bench, made of gum wrappers or heart-shaped paper clips.  It is not a famous bench, or an oft-used bench, or even an attractive bench.

But this it is my bench.

It is not my bench in the prosaic sense of ownership.  I do not “own” the bench.  I did not purchase the bench.  I did not carve the bench out of a giant sequoia.  I did not donate a certain amount of money to the museum to have my name engraved on the thing.  I did not put the hulking piece of wood there and arrange it with the objects around it to my liking.  But it is mine, nonetheless.

This is where I write.

Most every day, I take up my notebook and my pen and leave my Manhattan castle.  I ride the underground rails down to the 81st street stop.  I get off the train and enter the museum underground.  After flashing my handy membership card, I wander the museum at leisure for an hour or so. In this hour, I listen to instrumental music and make my way through the halls.  One day, I will be able to say that I have read every word on every plaque in every hall in the place.  

I’m not there yet.

Still, headway is being made, and that is what this wandering hour is for.

After my intellectual appetite is satiated, I head to my bench.  It is in an oft-forgotten, ill-frequented hall, in a boring section that hardly anyone goes to, behind a glass case.  If you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there.  🙂

Unfortunately, I cannot disclose to you, the reader, which bench is mine.  I do this for several reasons:

Reason One: You would go looking for it.  You would agree with me that it’s the best bench in the world and you would go there to write, too.  Then it would be really awkward when I went there one day and found you spread out like you owned the place and I had to punch you in the throat because you stole my bench, you cad.

Reason Two: You would broadcast it.  You would Tweet about it: #bestbenchever.  You would Instagram it with a hazy filter.  You would create a video of you extolling the bench and post it to Vine.  Or you’d tell your friends over brunch: “Hey, I heard about this awesome bench, guys.”  No thank you, sir.  Not gonna let that happen.

Reason Three: I’m incredibly superstitious and I feel like if I tell you it won’t be a good writing spot anymore.  No joke.

Anyway, back to my bench:  it’s glorious.  Out of the way, against the wall, with hardly any foot traffic that happens by, it’s my personal Shangri-La.  Without fail, every time I sit there I am able to write well.  And if not well, then at least prolifically.  

It is there that I have traveled back to 19th-century London.  It is there that I have flown through the air with faeries.  It is there that I have journeyed into a dystopian future, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in a horse-drawn carriage, kidnapped a child with a senile elderly woman, shared a first kiss, thrown a punch, and even checked my email.

It’s one of the most precious and exciting places in the world to me right now, and I’m so glad I found it.

Just wanted to share.

🙂