The World Is Stone

I sometimes wonder what the soundtrack to my life sounds like to other people.  It’s an odd supposition, I know, but I wonder about it.  Do they watch me walk down the street and hear a silly Allan Thicke theme song?  Do they hear a sweeping Jerry Goldsmith musical score, or an eclectic Quinton Tarantino 70s Mix Tape Soundtrack? Or do they hear some ELO/Vangelis synth-pop orchestration from the 80s.

Or do they hear heavy peppy beats of De La Soul, Arrested Development; the smooth styling of Boys II Men?

I only wonder this because I’m the hero of my own story–at least the protagonist.  We all are–we’re the center of our own story.  It’s how we’re wired:  we see from our own eyes and the timeline revolves around our own experiences.  We are, to the extent of things, our own Movie–or at least a long running TV series.

Movies have soundtracks.

When out and about, I sometimes have my own theme music, my own score.

It’s what plays in my head, the song that I hear either through my personal player, my car stereo, or more likely, from the huge library in my own brain.

But I sometimes wonder what other people think plays in my soundtrack.  How do they perceive me?  Am I a thunderous villain?  Am I the bumbling sidekick? Am I some vague romantic hero?  A thug?  A monster?  Comic relief?  Each has a different tune that plays when they appear on the screen, and, much so, on the screen of our life.


It was shortly after the L.A. Riots (or L.A. Uprising, depending on how you view it) began, not long after the verdict on the mis-named Rodney King Trial came down.  We had to go shopping for something, Mom and I.  My Grandmother had stayed home to mind the house, shotgun close by.

Mom went into the store, and I waited on a bench.  There was a middle-aged, graying Caucasian woman already on the bench when I sat on the other end.  I smiled slightly.  The day was odd, the mall eerily uncrowded, quiet, and sterile feeling.

I saw fear in her eyes.  Fear at my very Dwayne Wayne, preppy shirt with pegged pants self.  She forced a smile, and then moved her purse to the other side of her, and scooted further–unnecessarily further–towards the far end of the bench, where she was already sitting.

I was alone.


When the verdict was first announced, I and my friends were busy trying to set up for our Spring Musical at our high school–42nd Street.  We’d spent the better part of an hour trying to figure out how to get a 9ft tall dime through an 7ft door (You take both swinging doors off their hinges, remove the frame and then push the damn thing through on the diagonal, scraping a little of the rented prop off in the process).

“The verdict just came back.” One of the kids had been on stage, painting a flat and listening to the radio.

We looked at him, our rainbow of faces looking at him expectantly, all with the same question.

“Not guilty.”

“Shit.”  Someone gasped from behind me.

We finished loading in, rehearsed some, cried some and then waited for our rides to arrive.  Mine was late.  I dropped a quarter in the payphone (remember those?) and dialed home.  Fast busy.  Called my mom’s pager.  Fast busy.  Called my mom’s number at work.

“We’re sorry, all circuits are busy.  Please try your call again later.”

Smoke was rising from the north somewhere.  A siren blared in the distance. My best friend’s mom pulled up and suggested that I come home with them.  My mom was almost an hour late, so yeah, I did.

I think Les Miserables was playing in the car.

“Man, did you see 7th street?” someone called from down the street.  “It looks like the DMZ! Bricks and glass everywhere!”  It was an exaggeration, but it was happening, a store or two.

Mom pulled up to my friend’s house, in a firmly white, middle class neighborhood in Long Beach.  I’d been sitting in stunned silence watching the news. A long haired, blonde biker cum surfer dude was lighting fire to a palm tree next to the freeway.  A black man and a mexican man stood shoulder to business suited shoulder shouting, “No Justice, No Peace!”  Someone sang We Shall Over Come.


I was in college, my freshman year, months after everything.  My Korean Suitemate and I argued all the time over racial politics-his Long Island sensibilites clashing with my Compton ex priori life.  I was in a play about death and dying; I played in turns a Vietnam surgeon, and later, his ghost/guardian angel.

We’d wrapped the show, and were moving props and set pieces back into storage.  I was at the front of the line, carrying a heavy, prop Payphone, while the rest of the cast, lovely blonde and brunette actors and actresses of paler persuasion carried electric equipment, speakers, clothes.

I was humming Goodnight Saigon, as I’d taken to doing to get in character.  It was stuck in my head.

A siren blared, red and blue lights flashed and a spotlight shone…on me.  Only me.

I snapped. Stupid.

“Yes, very suspicious!  A black man, in a black man’s city, wearing a Yale T-Shirt carying a pay phone.  There are eight of us here! Why me?”  I was running off of no sleep, and was probably still pissed about an argument over whether it was reasonable for an older Korean shop owner to have shot a 14 year old black girl in the back of the head, punches thrown or not.

“Ummm…”

“Very fucking suspicious! Officer, I’m tired, this is heavy.  If you want to stop me, shoot me.”  I turned and stomped off as the spotlight trailed off of me, and onto someone else.

“He’s tired officer!  Sorry!  He’s with us!”

“We’re just finishing up a play.”

“What play?”

“Cold Sweat–over at the Yale Rep.”

“Oh yeah…”  I felt the light on the back of my head.  “I saw that last week.  Good job.  Be safe.”

Billy Joel sang in my head “AND WE WOULD ALLLL GO DOWN TOGETHER!  YES WE WOULD ALLLL GO DOWN TOGETHER!”


I got pulled over one night, after a punishing eighteen hour day on set.  It was the second night in a row of that, and I was fading quickly; I changed from my usual audiobook to something by The Decemberists, “This Is Why We Fight” I think.  Loud, dissonant, singable.  I saw the red lights of the parked patrol vehicle parked to the side of the long offramp, and tensed, but knowing that I was almost home, had nothing to fear and had a long way to go to get to the end of the ramp, it was all good.

I stopped at the sign, turned on my blinker and then pulled to the right, prepping for my turn.  It was a block and a half down when the blue and red lights came on behind me, and the spot shone in my side view mirror (it’s on purpose–to put the driver into disorientation and keep the her/him from seeing the officer’s approach).

Honestly, not having any idea why I was being pulled over, and quite frankly, starting to panic (exhaustion does that), I turned off the car, turned off the radio, rolled my window down, put my elbow in front of the mirror (so as not to lose my night vision) and put both hands on the wheel at 10 and 2.  And, were my skin of a lighter complection, most likely would have been white knuckled.

“Good evening officer, how may I be of assistance?”  No sarcasm.  Just lots of years of knowing better.  My voice was rising in pitch.  Fear?  It was only the police, right? Right? Long Beach, PD.  Highway Patrol? Signal Hill PD!? Signal Hill didn’t have any issues with traffic stops that I heard of.

“I pulled you over because you ran that stop sign back there.” Not the usual pre-amble.  No calming “Do you know why I pulled you over?”  No “sir.”

I ran no stop sign.  “Um…what stop sign officer?”  I don’t think I looked up from his name tag.  Willing myself to memorize it.  No eye contact.

I heard the irritation in his voice.  “The stop sign back by the freeway there.”

Suddenly, I found myself pissed.  “No…I stopped.”

“You blew right threw it.”

“If you say so officer.  Apologies.”  I was far more curt than I would normally ever be when getting pulled over.  Usually, I would thank the officer for pulling me over, keeping me safe, and wish him a good night–never with any sarcasm.  That night, it was just.  Heavy.  I quickly got back on script, beginning to shake.

“May I get my information for you, sir?”

“Yes.”

“I have to reach inside my glove compartment for my insurance and registration, is that OK?”

“Go ahead.”

“My license is in my back pocket, may I reach for it?”

“Go ahead.”

I fumbled about.

“Have you been drinking?”

“No, sir.  I’m just really tired…and police make me nervous.”  I pushed my fedora back on my head, loosened my tie, handed him my ID.

“I’m going to write you a ticket for running the sign.  Be more careful, sir.”  His voice softening, as he peered into my car seat filled back seat.

“I will.  I’m only a mile from home; heading home now, actually.”

He waited for me to pull out.  I sat there for a minute.  Calming down.  He waited.  I waited, and then, finally, un-usually, he pulled off first, turned around and then drove off into the night.

I rode home in silence.


When I walk around, there’s almost always some song in my head.  Sometimes I overlay the song with the show that’s playing  in front of me.  Sometimes, I put a story to the people that I see, write dialogue in my head and give them a soundtrack.

This one is having an affair with that one.  He is secretly supporting a family in Borneo with the money he makes from his side job as a bouncer.  She is a member of the Norwegian royal family on a quiet vacation and rendez-vous with the ambassador to Eritrea.  She’s actually a DJ/Journalist/Bartender on a coffee break.  He’s an aspiring poet who hates his day job as a stock trader.  She’s really a He, but is hiding from the mafia, her ex-girlfriend and her parents. He’s actually a time traveling dog named Rex who’s wearing a robotic person suit–Badly.

All the while, a song is playing, music from all sorts of artists.  The Who.  The O’Jays.  New Order.  The Commodores.  The Verve.  D’Angelo.  Dolly Parton. Puffy Amiyumi.

I wonder how people see themselves as they navigate through this world, over this water covered stone we call Earth.  Through this country we call The United States of America, in their town, on their street.  What’s playing in their heads.  Are they the hero?  Is there soaring music playing?  Is their heart heavy and can it be lightened with song?

And then I wonder, what music do they hear when they see me?

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Fragile

I took my two year old son out for a walk this morning,
and in the grass of our front yard
I saw a broken butterfly wing;
I picked it up without thinking
(or malice)
while my child pointed elsewhere, exclaiming
“Butterfly!  Look! Hurt Butterfly!”
I gently stroked the wing in my hand:
Orange, and black and yellow,
soft and velvet,
almost not there
save for the realness of its broken gone-ness.

We walked around the yard,
and I noticed all the fragile little things
littered in the browning grass:
A humming bird nest
Rose petals
A spider web
The shell from a bird’s egg
The white crown of a dandelion,

ready, waiting, calling to be blown
dispersed and carried on the light breeze
like the soul of a flower
to be shared and grown again;

We walked;
the whole while, my son singing
in that lisp-y, high pitched slur
that toddlers do,
“Ashes! Ashes!
All Fall down!”

After a while I carried him;
I crushed him close to me,
smelled his breath
felt his heartbeat,
the curl of his fingers
and the softness of his skin;

All the fragile things
Precious and rare,
Like the wings of a butterfly

 


 

So here’s a contest, just for you.  Yes, you.  Click the link…go on…

 

Writing To Reach you

There’s the trick, really.
A turn of phrase
A syllable or two
a sentence with aftermarket parts and
shoehorns used to squeeze words into meaning
like so much simile
painted on a page with a typewriter paintbrush;

harsh letters stamped under the glow of
incandescence and little else
I ask you to allow me to
Assault your sensibilities for a minute
(or five)
and hold onto your attention for a gap of
one thousand words or so;

You stop, and for a moment
(a brief moment)
You’re hearing my voice
in your head
telling you nothing about everything
and everything about nothing;

My wife tells me stories
(sometimes)
of how her mother would
put together a sign
some price tags
and lay out a garage sale;
People would come by
look at her wares
and and maybe talk to her;

To have someone reach out and touch her
Connect
Human Being to Human Being
To reach and be
with people.
To Be;

Sometimes the words,
They take their own path
in the wee hours
and they wend
and wind
and reach out
searching to you
or you, or you, or you
hoping to touch you in the ether
and in the world.

 


 

So here’s a contest, just for you.  Yes, you.  Click the link.  Do it!

Twenty Years

Twenty years ago, I sat in gown and silly hat (they were Mickey Mouse Ears with a tassel) and listened to The Fonz himself, Henry Wrinkler talk to my graduating class about how he worked through severe dyslexia to get through college, and then later on into Yale Drama school.  He spoke of how he got past being an “artist” to be a “working artist” taking roles on TV shows and commercials and not “legitimate roles in The Theatre.”  He spoke on how luck, as much as eagerness and hard work played into his success.

Twenty years ago, I would, the next day, stagger through our actual graduation ceremony–a ceremony which very much was filled with all the pomp and circumstance that you can believe an Ivy League school can muster.  I was hung over, and sleep deprived, and recovering from my last hook up of my college career –a hook up that literally was four years in the making, and didn’t actually come to fruition until our last night as college undergrads.

Twenty years ago, I sat in my residential college courtyard (a throwback to Cambridge and Oxford) with the other 100 or so kids in my graduating class that had lived in the same set of dorms for four years and waited for our names to be called.

Twenty years ago, my name was called and the world went silent as in a dream, and I walked up the flagstone path, shook the hand of our dean, the hand of our college master and was handed a little roll of paper with my name of it; and while it would be another year before I would get the BIG paper with my name on it (stupid 2 classes to make up), I would get to walk with, and forever be associated with, my class.

Twenty years ago, I gathered down in the courtyard with a couple of friends, stuffed my clay pipe with a handful of tobacco, lit the bowl and smoked it.  Upon finishing it, my friends and I participated in a tradition that goes back to the 1860s and smashed the pipes on the stones of our college: a semi-sacrament representing the end of our Bright College Years.

Twenty years ago, I turned to my mom, cried hot tears in the realization that the world had ended; that the world was new; that I had accomplished something huge; that I had taken the steps to something even bigger, something that would end with the waxing of my own light–that I was a baby starting life.

Twenty years ago, I graduated from college.

A world of things have happened in the intervening years.  A lifetime has passed.  No time has passed.  It was a life a way.  It was just yesterday.

I’ve had seven very different careers.  I’ve had fifteen minutes of fame with millions of people seeing me on a SuperBowl commercial and then on a huge reality show.  I was saved from a horrible accident by the grace of God and really amazing automotive engineering.  I’ve danced, and drank and screwed, and laughed and loved, and cried, and hated and forgave; I’ve fallen in love.  I’ve married a wonderful and sometimes frustrating woman.  I’ve had children, beautiful children, who both amaze and infuriate me.  All love.  All love.  Movies and books, and music and writing, and games and smarts and stupidity–and LOVE  all the bloody and wonderful and horrible and perfect and confused love.

Love.

I’m missing my Twenty Year College reunion as I type this. Twenty years of living, and life makes it really crazy to attend things, sometimes.  Big things.

I’m missing my classmates, roomates, and beer, and pizza and families and stories and catching up and love…but I’m not missing the love, not really.

The love never left me.  It’s here with me.  It’s in the friendships that I’ve carried with me, the insatiable love of learning that I still carry in my brain.  It’s in the conversations that I have, the things I try and instill in my kids, and the mind blowingly elegant and intelligent conversations that I have with my wife.

Twenty Years, and my college years still gleam bright for me.

Bright College years, with pleasure rife,
The shortest, gladdest years of life;
How swiftly are ye gliding by!
Oh, why doth time so quickly fly?

The seasons come, the seasons go,
The earth is green or white with snow,
But time and change shall naught avail
To break the friendships formed at Yale.

In after years, should troubles rise
To cloud the blue of sunny skies,
How bright will seem, through mem’ry’s haze
Those happy, golden, bygone days!

Oh, let us strive that ever we
May let these words our watch-cry be,
Where’er upon life’s sea we sail:
“For God, for Country and for Yale!

My name is Anthony Robinson, Calhoun College, Yale University, Class of 1996

Weekend Coffee Share: Tatooine

It’s a beautiful May day when you once again  make your way to visit him to chat over coffee.  You walk through the now familiar gate–this time not jumping at the odd little squeak and clang of it opening and closing.  You cross up to the front porch, dodging the little pile of bird poop that’s collecting on the steps.  You look up and notice the very occupied bird’s nest beneath the eave of the front porch.  You knock, and wait patiently for him to open the door–the sounds of a dog barking, shuffling, someone yelling to “go to the kennel” and locks being opened.

He opens the door with an obviously tired smile, and a croaky “Hey, nice to see you…come in!”  You walk through the open door, through a mass of books, toy trucks, boys’ dirty socks and shoes to find a seat at the round table that dominates the dining room area of the house.

Curios and Coffee

He offers you a cup of coffee, and all the fixings–including–again–an extra large bottle of whiskey. “Help yourself…” he says, and takes a seat beside you.

“How’ve you been?”  He asks you, folding his odd looking newspaper away.   “Me?  I’ve been working.  A lot–on this TV show for cable…it’s  been fun, and stressful and super tiring.”  He smiles, takes a long hard swig from his coffee, and fiddles with a spoon as you ask a couple of questions.

“Where have I been?” He echoes a question of yours.  He smiles, sits back in his chair and contemplates for a moment before putting on his best vacant wide eyed kid face and saying (almost in falsetto) “Well, if there’s a bright center to the universe, I was on the planet that it’s farthest from.”  He laughed at his own joke (lame) and then he’d say “I’ve been shooting out on location waaaaay up in Santa Clarita–about thirty miles north of Downtown LA.  You know–where cell phones barely work, there’s no lights, and every TV and movie western was shot for nearly 50 years.”

“It’s been fun, heartbreaking, hard and a great experience all rolled up into one; but that’s how it often is, with these things.”  He takes a sip, stares down into the cup and says “It’s too bad it ended a bit prematurely for some of us.  They let the whole A.D. staff go after this second week…”  He smiles, and before moving to refill his cup, he says “…and, believe it or not, I’m OK with that.  It’s good for my wife, and honestly, for me at the moment.  Go figure.”

He refills your coffee, and then his, and then sits back down.  “In the meantime, I’m still playing catch up on sleep.  Me and my wife both.  But hey, now I can nap with the baby again, since it’ll be me and the little one again, so that should be ripe of awesomeness.”  He smiles.

“You watch The Force Awakens?”  He asks, expectantly, his mood seeming to brighten.  “I’ve watched it only four times so far–only once in the theater.  It’s surprising, really.  I really like it, but it’s like…I dunno.  It’s like I’m watching the whole of the first trilogy again.  It’s too big–especially knowing that there’s more. ”  He points to the disk sitting on a table next to the TV.  “I keep threatening to watch it with friends, but…I dunno…if you hang around, maybe I’ll convince you to watch it with me?”  He smiles devilishly.

“Oh, speaking of things worth watching–” He motions with his hand, sloshing a little coffee over the edge of the cup.  “–my wife convinced me–ha! convinced me!–to get season tickets to the theater here in LA.  Hell, I’m stoked; there are two shows that I’ve wanted to see for a long time and the last show…it’s Hamilton.  Please tell me you’ve heard of Hamilton? ”

He pontificates on Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alexander Hamilton, actual color-blind casting, historical melodrama, and U.S. history for what seems like hours; after checking your watch, you realize that it’s only been about fifteen minutes.

He excuses himself to the restroom, simultaneously instructing you to make yourself at home.  “Go on,” he says, “take off your shoes; curl up your feet.”

While he’s gone, you peer over the debris on the table:  A broken and bare DVD case with a copy of The Peanuts Movie in it; a couple of folded up call sheets with notes scribbled all over them; a water soaked Little Golden Book about The Paw Patrol; a dog-eared copy of The Shining; a chewed and splintered Jenga block; a beat up looking iPad case; a couple of toy trucks; a stack of diapers and baby wipes; and a little notebook stacked on top of a pile of folded laundry.

He re-enters the room, and almost splashes down into the chair.  “It’s funny, you know?”  He picks up his now re-filled mug of coffee, and hugs it to him in both hands.  “The thing about being on set is like you’re in a little bubble.  It’s like you’re on another planet when you’re working.  It’s a long day of just one thing, and then another, and then another.  If you don’t look up, or if you don’t check in with reality, you’re out of the loop.”

He stops to meet your eye, reading your questioning look.  “Two weeks.  Two weeks and I barely know how my wife is feeling.  I barely know how my kid is doing in school, and how fast the little one is growing.  Did you know he’s started saying his ABCs?  Yeah.  Full on.  He’s ready to potty train, almost.  I’m just finding out.  There’s a HUGE wildfire in Canada…just found out.  That’s from like days ago.  Days.  I’m behind on my reality TV shows, on the mail, on my bank account, on the state of our house, on who’s the likeliest presidential front-runner of the moment; it’s like you’re out on an alien planet, an hour out past the last town in the middle of the desert on some backwater farm.”

“Movie and TV production is a lot more tedious and mundane, more removed from the world than people actually know.  There’s paperwork galore, there’s time and money to consider, a schedule to keep and way too many rules on how to do everything.  And everything happens way, way, way away from the real world.  I’ve often said if we were in the middle of shooting and WWIII broke out, folks on set wouldn’t know until an hour after the fact–and we’d be told by someone rushing in to tell us.”

He shakes his head, and flicks on a picture of his kids on his phone.  “You miss a lot.”

“So!” He leans forward, peering at you, tucking his phone away.  “Do tell…what have *you* been up to?”

Head Over Feet

My wife would probably kill me if she knew I was doing this instead of…I dunno, sleeping.  Let’s not tell, her, shall we?

I’m currently working on a show that I know a bunch of you probably enjoy; it more than likely makes you giggle, if you’ve caught it on cable.  But I shan’t say more here, lest I violate that NDA I signed.

Anyrate, my days start really early, as my call time is ass early, and my drive ass long.  The Days are ass long, too, busy, and rough, and then I get home late, sleep little, get up early, do it again.

But then my wife’s days are like that too.  Every day.  All the time.

She’s up ass early to first work from home, and then, deal with the kids.  She’s on the road early, and her commute’s long to get to a job that, while she loves, can be tiring and taxing, full and busy–sometimes more so because she’s an introvert with little reset time in an office full of extroverts who really really really REALLY like meetings.

Her commute home is long, and then she’s working late with the kids; up for a while after working on whatever she has left, with whatever she has left before going to sleep and doing it all again.

Every day. Rain or shine.

She does more of this, longer, and rougher when I’m working on shows like this, these shows that some of you have heard of, watched, or be completely unaware of.

My wife is a superstar.  A powerhouse.  A giant.  And I love her.

I just had to say that before I go collapse, lay down my tired head and rest my weary feet. Maybe, in there somewhere, I’ll dream of the lady sleeping in the other room.

Of a smile, a giggle, and soft touches exchanged in the light.

Musicology

Michael Jackson died on my 35th birthday.

I had just become a father, and was sloughing through it with my then partner and ‘baby mamma,’ and was all set to celebrate the milestone of becoming a true grown ass man, and then the news broke.

I was…horribly hurt by it.  Not just that “Happy Birthday!  The King of Pop is dead!” but that we had lost a true artist of song, dance and general entertainment.  But because it was as if I’d lost a friend.

I spent a week playing Off the Wall over and over…


I had been dancing my ass off for 4 hours and was taking a break by watching a bunch of drag queens perform “Dragspell” on the makeshift stage in a club up behind Dodger Stadium.  The clock had just spun past 1 am or so:  Easter Sunday, 2001.

The Matron of Ceremonies stopped the party, grabbed the mike and announced that she had just gotten a call from a close friend that Joey Ramone had died in New York.  We wouldn’t find out for hours that this was pre-mature by about twelve hours, but the crowd, drunk sweaty, and way too worked up, kind of lost it for a moment.

The DJ played I Wanna Be Sedated, and it was the happiest, friendliest mosh pit I’d ever been in.


I honestly don’t recall where I was when Kurt Cobain was found…I think someone came into the college dining hall, dropped the news flatly, and then a bunch of us kinda wandered around humming All Apologies.


I was sitting in front of the computer checking my twitter feed when I saw that David Bowie had left us–almost on cue–after celebrating his birthday and leaving a song and an album to say goodbye with.


Sometime, for no really good reason, I purchased a biography/career examination about Prince titled I Would Die 4 U:  Why Prince Became An Icon.  It was a solid piece by a journalist who’d been invited into Prince’s world on several occasions.  It talked about his love of music, his childhood, his life, his faith and how that all plays into his music.

It was a fascinating read, full of insight and hypothesis that make listening to Prince even more powerful.

One of the more interesting things posits that because of how his childhood was, how his relationships were, Prince came to never say goodbye.

The author, MSNBC commentator and pop culture critic, Touré tells a story of a time he visited Prince at Paisley Park.

After spending a couple of hours chatting and getting owned at basket ball by Prince, the Purple one excused himself to leave the room. Touré waited patiently, albeit uncomfortably; after almost an hour, one of Prince’s people came out and spoke to him–In my words:

“Hi, that’s it.  It’s time to go.”
“Wait, what?”
“Prince is done with the visit; he’s not coming back.”
“He just got up! Why didn’t he say goodbye?”
“Yeah, he doesn’t do that…”

Prince’s death today caught me off guard–caught a lot of people off guard, and for a bit there today, I think I felt like Touré probably did, waiting for the joke to finish, or The Artist to come back out.

Yeah, he doesn’t do that…

Prince left us the way that any good musician and entertainer should:  He left us with enough powerful memories to stick with us, enough songs to keep us entertained for years to come, and he left the stage with us wanting more.

When you do that, do you really need to say goodbye?

Proudest Monkey

Sometimes, it’s okay to pull off the masks and just be, right?  It’s perfectly OK to just live in the moment and be who you are, right then and there–in the seat that you’re sitting in, in the line in which you’re standing; with the potato chip in your hand, the bar you’re leaning against, the toilet you’re sitting on, the towel that you’re folding or the gum stuck to your shoe.

It’s OK to be mad, sad, frustrated, scared, happy, orgasmic, stupid, senile, distracted, confused, tired, driven, withdrawn, outgoing, closeted, loose, enraptured, self-deluding, smug, or damned.

Masks off and removed; unguarded, shields down.  Pretense discarded.

The hardest pretense is letting go of expectations–not of what we expect from others, but what we expect of ourselves–what my mom used to call the “Iffa Coulda Woulda Shouldas.”  We try so hard to steer our ship to what we want to happen in our life, what we planned to happen in our life; we match our course to where we thought we wanted to go, and not to where we’re going.

I’m guilty of it.  And you probably are too, to some extent.

I had been planning to write something well put together about my personal history being a dog owner (and I still might) (Yes, I sometimes plan what I’m writing.  It’s not all from the hip… I do in fact have some that brew for a couple of days…sometimes), but I ended up distracted with chores, life and then (of course) the internet.

I ended up discovering an amazing youtube channel about character actors and bit parts called No Small Parts.  It’s created by an actor who has taken many small parts, and has managed to steadily work.  It’s a passion project, to say the least, but if you have any love of film of TV (like me), then it’s worth a look.  You’ll grok it, I’m sure.

So, rather than visiting the dryer in the washroom (sorry, wife), I’m devouring the videos there–20 minute documentaries on faces that you probably know, but–with a couple of exceptions–probably don’t know or remember their names.  It’s compelling, and to be honest, in one case at least, beautiful.

Mask off, being in the moment.

I sifted through videos and came across a short “mini-sode” from the spring last year about the late character actor Taylor Negron.  Taylor was the epitome of “That Guy.”  You know:

“Don’t I know you?”

“Maybe, did you ever watch those Savage Steve Holland movies during the 80s?”

“HOLY CRAP!  You’re THAT GUY!  In that movie with…YEAH!  Hey, Beverly!  Tom!  It’s THAT GUY! from that movie we saw over at your mom’s house!”

I sat watching the video trying to figure out where exactly I remembered him from, and I *did* remember him–and then it hit me as they flashed a clip–“YEAH!  He was the Mailman from Better Off Dead!”  (Yes, “That Guy.”)  With each clip from the video, I recalled him again and again and again, and I thought “Man, this guy was everywhere.”

But, in his own words, from the article in which the video takes its voice, he was never famous.  Never really sought fame.  He had changed his expectations early on, to just ride where he was, what he was, and enjoy that ride.

The end of the video and article forced me to share this; brought tears to my big stupid mug, like a waitress bringing coffee to that guy who’s obviously been up all night.  For some reason (many storied reasons that I’m just going to keep to myself, OK?), it touched home, resonated and invited me to remove my own mask for a moment.  To just be in this moment, of a guy sitting, procrastinating and watching YouTube like a procrastinating jerk.

He wrote:

“By letting go of what you thought was going to happen in your life, you can enjoy what is actually happening.”

We’ve heard it before.  It’s not new, or original; you probably know the quote from Yoda or the other one from Doc Holiday, that one Jesus Jones song; but it is insightful.  It’s insight from a man who lived (at least his career) in such a way.

It’s food for thought.  It’s food for thought that hit me, sitting here, now.  And I wanted to share it with you.

We have to evolve to this–at least I need to.  It’s easy to forget that we are here, on a big planet spinning ’round, and orbiting Sol.  We are infinite monkeys, typing on infinite typewriters attempting to write the story of us; but instead of evolving to just write what comes, we’re trying to write our histories as we would design them.

Sometimes history happens.  Sometimes it’s better to stop, watch and be in the moment.  Take the picture and post it to instagram without a filter; tweet raw without editing, or counting characters; typing up a blog without thinking about it at all; writing the directions down and following a sheet of paper without google maps telling us which way to go.

Listening to the wind without documenting it.  Looking at your child without a camera in your hand.  Spending an afternoon with your family without a phone in your pocket.

Sharing your thoughts without pretense, or design, as it comes, stream of conscious, here and now.

Evolving to be proud, here in what we are, where we are; not denying ourselves the desire to be greater, or more, but to sometimes–from time to time–to look around and appreciate what we are and what we have.

Trying to be That Guy.

A Little Soul

1.

I sat there sweating in the sun, trying to match a diagram of a little kid’s jungle gym to the pieces of fiberglass, aluminum and plastic that claimed to be a real life little kid’s jungle gym.  It wasn’t going quickly, I was dehydrated, and becoming increasingly frustrated.  The frustration was mounting due to the beautiful little boy who just wanted to help dad–largely by picking up pieces that I’d painstakingly laid out–and moving them to another part of the patio.

I swore under my breath, shooing my son away, took two steps, nearly tripped over my Great Grandmother’s beagle, took another two steps and nearly tripped over my soon to be two year old son; he had stopped in mid toddle-run to dance.

I stopped, smiled, and then looked at my mom, who was grinning ear to ear watching him go.

“What radio station is this?”

“I’m not streaming radio, Mom…not exactly.  This is Pandora…”

“Oh!  Cool!  He likes it!” she pointed at the baby, who stopped wiggling his hips to toddle off to where his Great Grandma and my wife stood chatting.  “What song is this?  I know this…”

“Across 110th St.” I offered.

I looked back at the giant erector set.  “I guess I should play Soul more often, huh?”

I sat down and went back at it.

 

2.

I’m starting work on a pilot tomorrow.  It should be a fun time, a relatively easy time, as these things go–at least for me.  I have a humane start time for a change, and though I need to leave a little early to get there on time, I shouldn’t have to get up any earlier than I usually do.

I should be asleep already.

I’m anxious.  I’m anxious about the job, and about what comes after it; I’m anxious about how my wife is going to handle life for the two weeks (and crowded weekends) to come.  After three weeks of it being pretty much me and the little kid during the days, I’m anxious about missing him.

It does not help that he’s got a little cough cough.

He’s just this little guy.  Just a loving little man.  And with every cough, I jump up to make sure he’s not going to wake up, wake his brother up, or explode.

I want to lay down, but I’m worried that I’ll wake up my wife (who really, desperately needs her sleep), oversleep myself (with these kids? Really?  REALLY?), or that I’ll just lay there listening to cough cough cough.

So I’m going to lay on the couch, close my eyes, and say my prayers, on this the day after Easter:
Now I lay me down to sleep;
I pray The Lord my soul to keep;
If I should die before I wake,
I pray The Lord my soul to take.

Now to lay down and get to it.

 

3.

I envy the poets.  The *Great* poets.  The great singers, the great writers, the great artists.  The prolific ones.  The ones where it appears to come easily;  I envy the people who can put so much of their soul on the page, on the canvas, on the stage, and then just let it go with complete and utter abandon.

I’m mostly jealous because in my brain, they sleep all day.  They sleep all day, wake up and stare at the computer–maybe as long as I do–and then they just exhale.  They correct OODLES, but they exhale and it’s mostly there.

They say to themselves:

“Hey, you!”

“Who me?”

“Yes, you, kid!

“What’s up?”

“Time to write something, put it on the page and let it all hang out before you crash and burn.”

“Ok!”

“OK! Now…let’s get to it.”

The Man In The Corner Shop

Every Sunday morning you can find my little clique of family parading through the local farmer’s market like a grumpy, giggly, squirmy Dungeons & Dragons party of adventurers.

My wife had her head down, a woman on a mission to get in and get out while wrangling one of our two festive monsters that we call children.

“Mind if I peel off for a couple of minutes, honey?”

“Sure, I’m good here.”

“You want me to take the Crazy One?”

“Nah, I got him.  Go, have fun.”

I left my wife and our eldest to gather resources for the week while I ventured off to explore the textile, crafts and curios that inhabited the tents on the other side of the long row of vendors.

“Come on, little bit!” I said to the wee one strapped to my back in his kid-carrier, “Let’s go see what we can see!”

We went down and around, the littler one flirting with folks in their booths, and both of us sharing the sights of brightly colored t-shirts, home crafted jewelry and ceramic art; and the smells of coffee, soap, perfume and patchouli.

I made a pass by the regular hat vendor to see if anything new might catch my eye.  I am big on hats, as my wife might complain–they kind of litter our little house.

“I have the cadet style caps, like the one you’re wearing!”  The lady who owns the hat stand was pointing at my lid with one hand while simultaneously digging out a series of hats from a stack with the other.

“Very cool!” I cooed, rescuing my glasses from the baby.  “What about these, here?”

“Those are ten dollars each; two for fifteen.”

“Sweet!  I don’t think I can get these for a little while,” I shrugged.  “Do you carry these in your shop over on 4th street, too?”

“Oh! We closed the shop a few months ago.  It’s just this, now.”  She motioned to the booth with a sweeping motion.

Suddenly embarrassed, I stroked my beard.  “Wow…what happened?”  I asked before really thinking about it.

“Oh, we just decided that it was too much, you know?  My husband and I.  We were open seven days a week, you know?  All the time.  Then we opened this booth.  We figured we’d make more money, but we just lost money.  Money and time.”

Noting my look, she quickly continued.  “We are great with just this.  We have less overhead, less craziness and we have more time with our kids, you know?  We’re here, at a few festivals, the VA once a week and at a couple more farmers markets.  It’s so much better, you know? So much more time for our kids.”

I smiled.  “I can understand that.”

“We have two girls,” she beamed proudly, “half black, half Filipino.”  She waved at the kidlet on my back.  “He’s beautiful.  I love his curls.  It is impossible to take care of my daughters’ hair.  It’s so hard!  So much work!”

I laughed, “I can relate to that–I’m lucky to have boys–we just cut it off.”

We shared a laugh, she waved goodbye, as she wished us a good weekend.  “We’re here every week!  See you soon!” she called after us as we walked to meet up with the rest of our merry band.

******

The director of the pilot that I’m gearing up to work on invited some of the core folks who will be at the week-long rehearsal process to brunch today.  His take (and it’s true) is that we are the folks who will be staring at each other for 60 plus hours, we should get together and figure out our merry troupe.

The big kid, L’il D came with me.

The director’s very charming wife shepherded my son off to explore the country club where we were meeting up, leaving me (nervously) to sit and chat with the adults.

I ended up talking largely with the propmaster and the on-set props.

“What have you been up to since our last show?” the propmaster asked.

“I’ve just been staying at home with the baby, spending time with him, and the big monster I brought with me today.”  I forked some potatoes into my mouth.  “My wife’s the big breadwinner for us, so in-between gigs, we take our son out of daycare and I get to keep him, save some money, and get good daddy time.”

“Yeah, I’ve been spending time with our kids, too.”  He chuckled, “You spend all your time at work wishing you could be at home with the kids, and then you spend all your time at home waiting to get back to work to get a break!”

“Oh, totally!”  I laughed.

“But we’re so lucky that we get these big blocks of time off; it’s hard sometimes, but how many industries allow you breaks to be a full-time parent?”

“You have two kids?”  asked the lady who does standby-props.  “I’ve got two, as well–seventeen and fourteen.  You son, L’il D is how old?”

“Six and some change…the baby turns two in a couple of weeks–he was born in the middle of a pilot!”

“Oh, wow!  You’re so lucky–they’re at a great age now.  They get sassy and full of eye rolls fast!  Enjoy them!”

“I do…it gets crazy at times, but I do…I try my best.”

******

“I haven’t seen you in a while!” exclaims the man behind the counter.  He begins ringing up the soda and candy bars that I pushed across the glass display case.  He smiles broadly from beneath a thick, black mustache.

“I’ve been working,” I say.  “I don’t get out too much  when I’m at it.”

“Where are your kids?  With your wife?”

“Yeah, they’re asleep.  Everyone is asleep, and I’m out and about for a minute.”

“But I wish I were were asleep!” he says through his accent, rubbing his face.

“Do you ever get a day off?” I ask him.

“Oh, I’m here most every day.  Sometimes my son comes in and works a while.  Sometimes my wife.”  He hands me my change and my goods.  “Here you go.  Have a good evening.”

“You, too!”  I say.

“Oh!  It’s going to be a very good evening,” he grins and says “It’s my wife’s turn to open tomorrow.”

******

“So, Anthony, what are you going to do after the show wraps up?”

I was standing-by the make-shift school room that we’d put together on the set and talking to the parent of one of our child actors.

“Gonna spend some quality time with the kids…sleep…look for the next gig,” I joked, looking over my copy of the call sheet.  “How about you all?”

Her family is constantly on the go–all three of her children are busy actors, all working regularly on pretty big shows and going to school; her husband a high demand director of photography, and herself a busy actor in commercials.

“We’re all either on hiatus, or between jobs.  We’re going on a family vacation for a week!”

“Wow, that must be exciting!  When was the last time you did that?”

“Way too long,” she confided.  “Our schedules are so busy, we don’t do these trips too often.”

“I can only imagine.  When do you guys even see each other?”

“In the mornings, mostly.  On the weekends.  Their dad travels during the week, so he’s mostly home that time.”

“Excuse me, one moment,” I begged off, leaning to the side to discreetly answer a call on my walkie.  “Sorry, you were saying?”

“It’s just that you have to take the time when you can, and appreciate it as much as you can.”

“Copy that.”