Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Conversation That Changed My Life

I am starting this post with a picture of Oprah, because shit is going to get preachy up in here.

Today was a day of mixed emotions. I started at Old Chicago, where I officially said good-bye to everyone who was involved in The Play That Wasn't, and I received the pillows that my friend Sina graciously made for the silent auction that was to raise money for The Play That Wasn't. They are beautifully embroidered and I was happy to have them in my possession. I was off on Sunday due to my staycation, and took the bus to Lush, since I have seen many Facebook statuses about how it is such a great place to be on a Sunday afternoon due to their mimosas, and I can never go due to my retail job. I felt a little weird having pillows on the bus, but since I was at the bus stop next to a woman who was wildly gesticulating and clapping her hands, I still felt normal by comparison.

I arrived at Lush around 2:30 P.M., and I have this to say for all you Minneapolis kids: If you have no plans on a Sunday and it's a nice day out, GO TO LUSH. It is like gay Las Vegas on a Sunday. The patio is open! The weather is beautiful! Boys are in skank tanks! Music is playing! The mimosas are as big as your head! I don't even like mimosas, but I was sure to order one just for the ambience.

I sat at the bar by myself and ordered a mimosa. "I'm day drinking," I announced, still raw from the disappointment from The Play That Wasn't. "I'm depressed." I looked at the table across from me, which was a posse of young gay men who seemed to be friends. They probably did not work at the mall. I was going to text my mother to come pick me up because I felt lonely and stupid, but my phone was dead. I looked to the right and saw an acquaintance and a friend of his. The acquaintance in question is a nice person -- he generally always says hello to me in public -- but his friend is not. This guy literally grimaced when he saw me walk in the bar. I'm not sure why he doesn't like me, or why I chose to obsess over it, but it made me want to order another drink.

"Are you ready to play Iron Chef Bartender?" I asked the lovely young woman behind the bar. "I want something that's summery but has vodka in it. And I want a Red Bull, because I'M TIRED."

She presented me with the Red Bull (poured in a glass, and it totally looks like pee that way) and a blue concoction. "I just put all the flavored vodkas together," she giggled. I WAS SOLD. I took a few sips. I looked back at the table of gays, at the boy who grimaced, at the local celebrity I'm inexplicably always name-dropping, at the boy in the muscleshirt who I totally saw at Lush *last* night but who does not know I am alive, and realized I should at least try to mingle before asking to borrow someone's phone to call my mother. He wrote that at age 25.

I went outside and stood next to a young woman. "I am going to look normal," I said, despite the fact that I was wearing a blue hoodie over a red T-shirt and orange pants and randomly had two pillows with me. She laughed, and introduced me to her girlfriend, and her friends, and they were all incredibly nice people. One of them was from Long Island and we bonded over a New York City past. One of them was from South Dakota. They were all dreamers who saw Minneapolis from a different perspective than I did, and as the mimosas flowed they were laughing at everything I said. We discussed our neighborhoods and future goals and took random pictures with my pillows.

As I continued mingling, I met another young woman who told me she was just moving back from the Middle East where she was teaching. She had vivacious curly hair and was rocking a hipster outfit. She told me a delightful story about when she brought her parents to Lush, and I shared a similar experience about when I brought my father to the Gay '90s. The acquaintance's mean friend was in the parking lot. "See that guy in the stripes?" I whispered. "He literally grimaced when he saw me walk in here. I don't get it. I'm not gonna fuck his boyfriend. His boyfriend only likes Asians. What's with people? Like, what did I do to you?" The local celebrity and his boyfriend walked back inside. The boy in the muscleshirt laughed loudly amongst his posse. I WAS SO OBSESSED ABOUT THIS. I realized I was talking about myself too much, so I wanted to switch the conversation back to her. "Are you going back to the Middle East?" I asked.

"I hope so," she said. "Last winter my stomach kept getting bigger ..." This story was either going to end with a pregnancy or a humorous tale of food poisoning, I could tell. "...And it turns out that I had a tumor, and then they realized it was cancer." She said this in the same tone that she told me about teaching English, about her parents from Wisconsin, about how much she loved gay men. She did not say this to garner sympathy or a dramatic reaction. She said this because it was her story.

I simply nodded as I did not want to freak out and make her feel like a fragile infant. I am sure she had seen that reaction enough. She continued.

"So my boyfriend from the Middle East e-mailed me and was like 'Wow, you have cancer, I can't deal with this.' He basically broke up with me via e-mail. The doctors told me that 70% of cancer is just bad luck, and that's what I had. I have no history of lady cancer in my family. I never had problems before. I just learned that life is so short, and you just have to LIVE it. No matter what your dreams are, just go for them, because you never know when it's going to end."

"Can I ask if you're okay now?" I asked.

"No, you can't," she said, smiling through slight tears forming. Then I realized I was crying, too. "Oh, please don't cry," she said sweetly. "I haven't cried since January. If you cry, I am going to cry."

"Oh my god, I'm not crying," I told her. "It's allergy season, it's terrible! This pollen index, it's horrible. I've taken so much Claritin!

It's just that I went through a setback -- nothing like yours, but I was going to be in this play and it was going to be a big deal and I was finally going to be somebody, and it didn't happen and I was so disappointed, and I saw this billboard that said 'in everything, give thanks', and I'm just so thankful that I met you and you're having this conversation with me, and I'M NOT CRYING, I told you, I have really bad allergies."

"Life is so short, Jakey," she said. "Just LIVE it. That's all I want to tell people. Please stop crying."

I did the proper thing, which is walk to the bathroom, where I cried like a proper lady. I prayed in the bathroom, and apologized to God for a) not talking to Him in a few years, and b) doing it while I was urinating. When I walked out of the stall, I noticed that my hair was messy and my T-shirt was giving me a muffin top. Then I realized that I was not going to care. I walked back to the dance floor. I did not care about the boy who grimaced when he saw me, or the boy in the muscleshirt, or the local celebrity. I talked to the girl some more, this time about easier topics like cute boys and our siblings. The boy from Long Island let me borrow his phone to call my mother. We all screamed "LORETTA!!!" from the patio but she did not want to come inside. "I'm not hanging out with drunken gays," she told me when I got in the car. "I will hang out when they are sober. Are you crying? You said you were going to only have one mimosa."

Oprah had a sleepover with Maya Angelou once. I saw it on the 25th Anniversary DVD. "My favorite lesson from you," Oprah told Maya as they rather awkwardly laid in bed wearing pajamas, "Is that you told me in the moment of your crisis, say 'Thank You'." In your sadness, in your despair, in your hopelessness, find something to be thankful for.

My bender of a staycation is over. The play is cancelled. I go back to work tomorrow. Life is short. I look forward to living it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Show Doesn't Go On: What I Learned

(Disclaimer: Yes, this thing has not been updated in nearly a year. I experimented with a Tumblr. I didn't understand it. I was intimidated by friends of mine like Rants of a Diva whose blog is thorough and all kinds of awesome. I don't know if I'll update this ever again, but something happened in my life, I want to write about it, it wasn't anything I could submit to the Tangential, and it was going to be too long to write to Lavender about.)

My return of Saturn at the age of 25 scared the crap out of me. I didn't feel like a total loser anymore since I had moved out of my parents' house, but it's a milestone year that makes one re-evaluate. If I had good health insurance, I would have gone to a therapist, but since I work retail, I chose to instead talk to a tarot card reader at Jetset about my existential crisis.

"You're young," he said. "But not YOUNG. What do you want to do in life?"
"I always wanted to go to school to be an actor," I said, "And I kind of screwed it up." I told him I had started doing stand-up comedy more often, and maybe that was a more proper avenue for my pseudo-talents.
"You could even do community theater and feel fulfilled," he told me. Then I asked him to draw a card about a British boy I was having an emotional affair with on the Internet, and he drew one with a sword going through a heart. (I'm over it, really, I just went through a phase where I constantly listened to Duffy's "Warwick Avenue" on repeat).

Last fall, I went to my first audition in years. I was randomly off work that weekend as I was planning a trip to visit a friend of mine in Winona, and I found the timing to be serendiptious. Plus, the play seemed perfect for me: It was a gay-themed production, and the two leads were both described as strong comedic roles. I wouldn't have to worry very much about ACTING.

At the audition I was told that Comedic Role #1 was written to be heavy-set and Comedic Role #2 was written to be a person of color. I am neither of those things. Instead, I read a monologue by a 17-year-old gay boy who ran away from home and was tearfully confessing that he was at an AA meeting under false pretenses. The producers convinced me I could play 17, and when they asked me what my real age was I totally lied and said 23. But as for the monologue, I totally bombed it, was convinced I would not be cast, and got lost on the way home from Uptown so I went to my brother's Trader Joe's to bother him.

"Dane!" I wailed. "I went to an audition and I totally biffed it!"
"Well, yeah," he smirked. "You're not a good actor." When I win an Oscar, I will resist the temptation to bludgeon him with it.

I went to Winona, drank with cute 19-year-olds whom I convinced I was 21, and thought nothing of it. A week later, I got an e-mail saying I got the part of the 17-year-old! Five minutes later, I got another e-mail saying they cast someone else as the 17-year-old, but would I accept the smaller part of his love interest? Of course I would! ACTING.

Rehearsals started in November. I went to the director's apartment to practice my "romantic" scene on the same day I had the stomach flu, and promptly threw up cabernet in his toilet. You could have cut the sexual tension with a knife. The director quit. The assistant director quit. The new assistant director quit. Some of the leads quit. The dates got changed. The venue got changed. The boy playing the 17-year-old quit and they cast me in his part. I went from having 12 lines to being one of the co-leads! I was able to pull off the crying scene without thinking of sad puppies or going bald. This poor straight guy was now cast as my love interest, and I took him out to Seven with my friend Diva when she visited so he would feel less awkward about it. We rehearsed the kissing scene twice, and I will confidently say that he was a better kisser than most of the dudes that have drunkenly slobbered all over me at The Saloon. (That sentence makes me sound much sluttier than I really am, but I will choose to keep it)

For seven months, I obnoxiously told every customer at my mall job that I was in a play. I rang up the very prominent local theater actress Carolyn Pool and when she asked "Are you an actor?" I answered affirmatively. I WAS AN ACTOR. I was going to convince everyone I was actually 17! I was going to be seen! I was going to get an agent! I was going to meet Justin Jones, who totally RSVP'd "no" for our fundraiser with a back-door brag about his upcoming trip to Cozumel! Because of a girl I met in the show, I got a new apartment in Loring Park! It was all meant to be that I totally screwed up my plan of being a theater major when I was at Brooklyn College for two seconds! I was going to make it, kids, and make up for those years in my early twenties when I was a depressed lump of vodka!

The fundraiser was on Monday. We were to be in character. I went to Nordstrom that day and got my face done by Jean-Paul from the Clarins counter so I could be a convincing teenager. I got glitter all over my face and the jeans that I bought from the kids' department. My designer friend Sina made pillows and I won them for $25 although I never recieved them. The jeans still have glitter on them. My father came and paid $10, but the entertainment didn't start until after he left. One of the performers was a stand-up "comic" and I say that in quotes because he told three "jokes" and then read an eight-minute poem that was the "Hiawatha" of being a formerly obese drug addict, and I wanted to write my own poem as a reaction to how bored I was. Still, it was just a bump in the road, and the rest of the entertainment that night was wonderful -- a drag queen called me a "pocket gay", I saw burlesque for the first time, and there was even a gay rapper! The show was going to go on! I drove one of the lead actors home, and we had an excited conversation about starting new chapters in life. He came to rehearsal super depressed the next day, and didn't show up on Thursday. At the end of rehearsal, we all sat in a circle and talked about our characters. We were thanked for our hard work and for sticking through the process, and were told that the show was going to go on.

We all got an e-mail the next morning saying the opposite. I felt sad and deflated, and in order to get my mind off it I drove to Winona to drink with cute college boys. I highly recommend this as a coping mechanism.

On the way back from Treasure Island Casino this afternoon (I lost $60. DAMN YOU, SEX AND THE CITY SLOT MACHINE), I saw a billboard that said

"In everything give thanks ...." -Thessalonians 5:18

I fully realize that I am not a likely person to be quoting Scripture. Usually when I mention the Bible, I'm really talking about the current edition of GQ. But this really moved me, and on the way home, I realized that despite how disappointing the end of this experience was, the sum of it was rewarding. Here is what I learned:

My parents are really quite awesome. My character in this show was kicked out of his house for being gay. I am so lucky that my parents went to a church that didn't try to "pray the gay away" (Lutherans don't really do that, as it would get in the way of making the coffee and bars), and while, like most high-strung teenage girls, I went through my years of Mommy Issues, I'm sure if you asked her to write down her ten least favorite things about me, my sexual orientation would not be one of them (I guarantee #1 would be "Chronic Lateness" and #2 would be "Overuse of Profanity"). My dad's posse of friends from the local bar were excited and willing to pony up $35 to see this thing. Even my grandma was excited to see this show, and that was after I told her that I was going to be kissing a dude. HARD. I learned that my experience -- as an effeminate teenager who was widely accepted by his peers and family -- is rather abnormal, strangely more so than it seems to have been ten years ago, and I didn't fully realize that until I was playing a character whose experience was the opposite. That is what I will most take away from this experience.

I am going to fully embrace that I look like a high-schooler. I was so hard on myself when I was 17. I was convinced I was too pale, too fat, too skinny, too ugly, too hairy, too feminine, too everything. I don't know what ideal I was holding myself up to -- Paul Walker? Brent Corrigan? (don't Google that) -- and I remember a friend's mom told me "You will grow into your looks". I thought that was such a weird thing to say, but now I get it. I wasted too much time being critical of my looks, and now that I am 25, which is the twilight years for a single gay man, I am going to try to be nicer to myself. This isn't to say that I am going to consider myself to be "hot" and that my next career goal should be Channing Tatum's body double, but it is to suggest that I not dog myself so much.

My co-workers at the mall are really my second family. My managers were ridiculously supportive with my crazy rehearsal schedule. Co-workers were always willing to switch shifts with me, especially once my part got beefed up. One of my colleagues would always stare at me and say "ACTING" and it will always crack me up to think about it. I'm still taking my paid time off in May. Winona will be out of session by then. Maybe I will take a pottery class.

At least I tried, dammit. I didn't stay home the day of the audition. I didn't quit when my part got bumped up and I realized I hadn't done this in five years. I took a risk and while it ultimately didn't pay off, I did all I could from my end. I met really awesome people, motivated artists and thinkers who are the reason Minneapolis is such a vibrant and cultured place to live.

I learned that, if we all do our part, the 17-year-old gay boy is going to be okay. I never played him on stage, but he's a part of me now, and while I have never considered myself to be an activist of any means -- in college I joked that in high-school I was the gay/straight alliance, which is kind of true if you're an openly gay student and straight boys carry your backpack up the stairs for you -- I don't want that 17-year-old to live in a state that amends its Consitution to make him a second-class citizen, or go to a school district that doesn't believe gay students should be protected from bullying, or go to a job interview and be denied employment on the sole basis of his sexual orientation. I'm not *that* much older than he is, but I want to fight for him.

I just want to do stand-up again, man. I'm sure dissing that comic in that earlier paragraph is bad karma and I will bomb the next ten times I go up there, but as I have learned from the past seven months, acting is hard.