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 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 people act crazy when you give them free things.

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At my theater company’s smaller space, we handle mostly new works by new slash unknown playwrights.  Our first week of previews for every show have what are called “Talk ‘n’ Taste” nights, where we hold a post-show discussion with members of the creative team so they can gauge the audience’s reaction and figure out what works and what doesn’t.  That’s the “Talk” part.  The “Taste” part is free pizza and wine in the lobby for those that participated in the discussion.

The ten most frequent types of Free-Pizza people:

  1. The person who walks up, looks at the offering, makes a face as if to say, ‘That’s it?’ and then walks away without partaking.
  1. The person who may or may not be homeless based on their hoarding of three or four pieces of pizza in their bag, after which they make a quick getaway to seemingly eat on the street.
  1. The person who walks up and talks a lot about the pizza – ‘Where did it come from?’, ‘Do you have a different kind not on display here?’, ‘Have you ever had this other kind of pizza?’, ‘Maybe you should get that kind next time.’
  1. The person who walks up and doesn’t talk about the pizza at all, but still talks a lot – ‘So you work for the theater?’, ‘How long have you worked here?’, ‘Have you seen this show?’, ‘Is this a new building?’, ‘Can I buy a ticket from you for the next show?’, ‘Is it still raining outside?’
  1. The person who makes you decide what they like.  ‘What’s your favorite kind of pizza here?  The zucchini?  Do you think I’ll actually like that?’
  1. The person who tries to return the pizza.  ‘This isn’t what I thought it would be and I don’t want to throw it away.  Do you think anybody else would eat this piece that I took a bite out of?  There’s still a lot of it left.’
  1. The person who stands by the pizza table so they can immediately reach in and get another piece when their current one is gone, crowding the table and making it impossible for anyone else to get in and grab a slice.  Because obviously the second they walk away it will all disappear.
  1. The person who asks for the ingredients.  Or if it’s gluten-free.  It’s free pizza, lady.  I don’t know.
  1. The person who sets up camp on one of the benches in the lobby with their pizza and sits for a half-hour after the event ends.  You put away the table and take out the trash and they’re still there.  Everyone else is gone and they’re still there.  You fade the lobby lights down to half and they’re still there.  So you literally have to go up to the person and tell them that you need to close up the lobby.  It’s at that point they say they have to go to the bathroom first.  So now you have to wait for all that to happen before you can lock up and leave.
  1. Finally, the person who just takes a piece of pizza and a glass of wine and says “Thanks!” and goes off to one side to chat with their friends.  They finish their pizza and leave quietly.  These are my favorite.

Can you name any other types of Free-Pizza People?

 

Sometimes people are the worst.

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Imagine, if you will, a typical night at the theatre.  On the job, I stand at the back of the house, as is my usual position, keeping watch over the flock of theatre-goers who are watching an Off-Broadway musical.  All is well.

A gentleman in the front of the house gets up and leaves through the side aisle.  No problem.  I radio to my co-worker downstairs, informing her that someone has left the house.  She confirms and several minutes pass.  She radios that the gentleman used the restroom and is now on his way back up to me in the elevator.  (Due to the odd configuration of the house, everyone who arrives late or leaves their seat and comes back in has to go through the back of the house – it’s too distracting otherwise.)

I greet the gentleman as he exits the elevator.  He is in his mid-thirties, nicely dressed in a linen shirt and trendy jeans.  He has dark curly hair and is not Caucasian.  I inform him he will not be able to return to his actual seat, he says that’s ok, and I put him in a seat in the second-to-last row.

The performance continues.

About fifteen minutes later, a woman gets up from the front of the house and stands in the side aisle.  She must have to use the restroom, I think to myself, but wants to wait for the current song to end.  Unfortunately, we can’t have anyone standing there – fire hazard.  I radio down to my co-worker and inform her of the problem.  She confirms and retrieves the woman from the side aisle, taking her downstairs and out of sight.

Shortly thereafter, she radios up to say that the woman is coming back up in the elevator to me.  She was apparently concerned when the previous gentleman left his bag.  Ahh, I think.  She was with him and brought his bag.  (Not uncommon when a member of a couple leaves to use the restroom and magically never returns to their actual seat – the other party comes looking for them.)

When she gets off the elevator, I see she is much older than the gentleman.  White-haired, Caucasian, obviously wealthy.  I doubt they are a couple.  She also has no bag with her.  Curious, I think.  I give my speech about how she, unfortunately, won’t be able to return to her actual seat.  She says that’s fine, as long as she can sit somewhere in the back.

Of course, I say.  I direct her to the row in which I had placed the gentleman, still thinking they must still be of the same party.  She balks.  Her eyes go wide and she shakes her head vehemently left and right.  I remind her in whisper that I cannot get her to her actual seat.

“I’m not sitting next to him,” she hisses. 

Confused, I place her in another row and the show concludes.  They were not together.

I found out later the rest of the story to which I was not privy:  The woman left her seat because the “Middle-Eastern-looking man” left his bag in his seat and then disappeared.  When my co-worker downstairs assured her that nothing was amiss, she did not believe her and said that we (the theater) should “do something, like call the police.”

When my co-worker asked if the woman would like to leave, the woman replied, “No I want to see the show I paid for.” 

So the compromise was her sitting far enough away that if it was a bomb, the shrapnel would have definitely cut her up a bit. 

The icing on the cake with all of this is that apparently she left her husband right next to the bag.  He was apparently not convinced anything was wrong and didn’t want to cause a fuss or give up his good seats.

Needless to say, nothing happened with the bag and all three hundred people safely left the house at the end of the performance.

Oh, the people you meet in the theatre…

Sometimes you walk past a dead body on the banks of the Hudson.

At 9:15am today I saw the new Star Trek at Lincoln Square.  At 1:00pm I saw Belvedere Castle as I walked north through the park.  At 2:45pm I saw Memorial Day picnickers when I transferred to the Greenway.

And at 3:05pm I saw a dead body in a bag.

The scene was idyllic:  a lovely sunlit path by the Hudson’s waters, cyclists in family groups laughing at inside jokes, and a light breeze rustling the leaves in the maples.

And two police cars.  And three policemen.  And a slew of purple medical exam gloves tossed haphazardly to one side.  And a large black garbage bag with a slightly swollen foot sticking out.

Ah, and yes – the breeze that was rustling the leaves brought with it a fragrance too fine to put into mere words.  A fragrance that yielded a lush bouquet of various bodily functions and sun-ripened processes, all having matured while marinating in the green-grey waters of the Hudson Valley.

Who was the owner of this water-logged hairy leg, I wondered.  Some poor kayaker bashed against the shoals upstream?  A jilted lover who had had enough of the world?  A drug deal gone awry?

Later, as I reflected upon this event, I was reminded of a time when I had thought I would see another dead body mere inches from me.  Journey with me into the past…

The year was 2011.  Barack Obama was the president.  The world had not yet been introduced to the Internet memes of Lil’ Bub or Grumpy Cat.

I was working (as I still do today) as an Assistant House Manager at Second Stage Theatre, a job that allows me the opportunity to witness the inner soul of humanity on a daily basis and run screaming in the opposite direction.

It was a Wednesday matinee, and we had a school group coming in:  High school.  Inner city.  Tough kids.

I was upstairs in the theater, watching the audience take their seats, when I heard Jenny the ticket-taker’s voice over the headset (it’s in a Welsh accent, P.S.): “Artie, we need you downstairs right now!  Medical emergency!”

Now, for those of you who may not be aware, I’ve served as a medic in the New York Army National Guard for a few years.  Nothing too crazy or outlandish, but I have my EMT certification and a basic skill set for helping those who are in immediate need of medical attention.  Although I have this certification, however, I’ve never really had to use it.  Sure, I’ve given the Heimlich a couple of times, and I treat minor burns, bumps, bruises, and bellyaches when playing Army, but no “real-world” experience, per se.

So you can imagine my total soul-crushing fear upon hearing those words being screamed at me through a two-way radio.  Suddenly I was the one who was responsible for whatever was going to happen.  Suddenly I was the one who was supposed to do something.

My first thought as I ran down the stairs was that it was one of our subscribers.  Bless their little hearts, most of them are geriatric timebombs waiting for the one day that something doesn’t go quite right so they can leave us all behind.  In my head, I went over the steps for CPR: “30 compressions at 100 per minute, two breaths, check pulse.  Or is it two breaths, then compressions?  Or is it pulse?”  I got out my phone from my pocket, holding it at the ready, waiting to hand it off to somebody and shout “Call 911!” in their face.

When I reached the lobby, I scanned the area.  I saw no dead body, so that made me feel a little better.  (Although, let’s be honest – if someone’s already dead, there’s nothing I can do so there’s a lot of pressure that’s taken off my shoulders.)  I saw no blood.  I saw no guts.  In fact, nothing seemed out of place.  There was very little in the way of audience activity down there, as most were already up in their seats.  I spotted Jenny and sprinted to her side.  With a sigh of relief, she directed me to a young man by the front doors.

“He says he feels like he’s going to die,” she told me with a slight tremor of fear.  Then she quietly resumed her tearing of the tickets, reminding audience members to please turn of their cellphones.  I ran to the boy, which didn’t take long because he was only two steps away.

He was definitely from the high school, as he couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old.  He was thin and gawky – as high school boys are – and was showcasing his fly fashion sense by allowing his beltloops to droop down to about the lower-thigh region of his leg.  His arms were crossed and he was pacing in circles by the box office window.  His eyes were wide and his head was shaking.

After greeting him and asking him how he was feeling, he responded with “I dunno man.  Something’s wrong.  Something’s wrong.”  Not to worry, young man.  I, proper medic that I was, went through a prescripted evaluation in the hopes of coming across his ailment.  He continued his pacing while I interrogated him.

When did you start to feel like this?  What exactly do you feel like?  Are you in any pain?  Have you ever felt this way before?  Would you feel more comfortable sitting down?

About halfway through, he apparently got tired of answering my questions.  Brusquely, he grabbed my arm and pulled me out onto the street. “Look,” he whispered. “Can you keep a secret?”

I responded with the ever-elusive “What is it you want to tell me?”

Nervously, the youngster looked around.  “I bought some brownies, man.  Across the street.  I think there’s something bad in them.  I think I’m dying.”

I nodded my head, solemnly.  “And where did you buy these brownies?”

“From a guy.”

“You know this guy?”

“My friend does.”

“Where’s your friend?”

“In the theater.”

“But he had some brownies too?”

“Yeah, and he’s fine.  So’s all the other guys who bought some.”

I continued to nod, ever the medical professional.  I put my phone back in my pocket.  I didn’t think I’d need it at the ready anymore.

“What was in the brownies?”

“Pot, man.  Weed.  But I don’t know.  I don’t think I’m supposed to feel so weird.”

“Have you ever had marijuana before?”

“No.”

“Have your friends?”

“Yeah, they’ve all smoked it before.  Said I should try it.”

“So you tried the brownies?”

“Yeah.  But now my body’s doing weird things and I don’t feel like I felt earlier.”

“Before you ate the brownie?”

“Yeah.”

“You feel different?”

“Yeah.”

“Not normal?”

“Yeah.”

“Hmm.”

“Also?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m really thirsty.”

I got his teacher’s information, and made the kid sit on a bench.  I radioed for them to send the teacher down.  I told the concerned woman what was going on.  She looked at me with incredulity.

“So he’s just high?”

“It appears so.  Yes.”

She punched the young man’s arm and laughed.

I recommended that she take him to the hospital if he really felt like he wanted to go, but that it would probably pass and all would be well.  And that the next time he ate a similarly-baked brownie, he would probably be a little calmer about the whole thing.  They remained in the lobby for the duration of the performance.

I saw him again once more – at another show.  Apparently his school comes to most of them.  He saw me and shook my hand in a very cool way that the white man I am dares not replicate.  “He talked me down,” he bragged to his friends.  “I was mad trippin’, yo!”

And then they entered the theater to witness the beauty of the spoken word.

I had to tell him and his punk friends three times to stop texting during the darn show.