Sunday, December 28, 2008

A working Christmas

On my birthday, I wake up at noon. But I have an excuse for this.

To make sense of it, let's back up a few days.

On Tuesday I'm in LA, on the set of a new series, working with my client and friend Eliza as she to pours herself into an enormous role. She's in almost every scene of this 63-page mountain of a script, courtesy of the young writers Jed and Maurissa (more on them later...). As if that weren't enough, Eliza's playing a recently deceased 55-year-old woman who's been put into her young body (it's complicated) and must return to her own home, as a young stranger, and endure the quite painful and unexpected things that are said to her, about her-- all while trying to unearth a truth without being found out. Like I said, it's complicated.

Thing is, my original trip to LA was intended to be one of my quick out-and-back jobs; fortunately, I'm able to rearrange things to remain in LA for the duration of the shoot. I've only got one commitment that I simply won't bail out on (yes, a class...). But the scheduling gods are smiling: class day, Wednesday, is the lightest on the schedule, so... if I leave Wednesday on a God-help-me 8AM flight out of LAX, I can arrive in NYC in time to do what I've got to do; then, if I can drag myself onto an 8AM flight back the next morning...

On Wednesday, traffic to LAX is light, thank God... I make my flight, which lands at JFK on time... arrive at my office at 5:30 to find a private client waiting and ready to go. I work with the client, then interview two potential new students before finally, at seven, teach what is my last class of the year. I'm back in my apartment at about 11:30... and can't sleep. I force myself into bed a little after midnight.


So, Thursday. To keep things simple let's do this in LA time:

I'm up at 4 AM (7AM East Coast), and in a cab at 4:20AM, back out to JFK for my return.... no upgrade (dammit!), but at least the flight's smooth, and on schedule. I'm in LAX by noon, pick up the rental car, head to Eliza's house... where I learn that, due to their late night on Wednesday, call time has been pushed. Sa-weet! I'm not due on set until 3PM, and Eliza's first scene goes off at four.

But but but... "set," in this case, is at a rural ranch about an hour out of LA, so as soon as I'm unpacked, I leave. I think they exaggerate about the drive, but no-- it's a solid hour before I turn into a remote ranch somewhere in Ventura county. Ends up they're doing pickups until the sun goes down, so there's little to do but work some scenes, run some lines, wander the property, relax.

I am reminded from time to time how California has its own beauty. The distant hills, bare save for a lone tree here and there, remind me of... something, something... a memory from high school, I think. I am, for a moment, completely dislocated. Or maybe that's fatigue.

Darkness comes and we head inside the stables, and as the night progresses I am again reminded of the work I do with so many of you in New York.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: what's happening on this set here (LA) is really no different than what we do there (NYC). Bigger crews and better cameras (and craft services!), that's about it. For this first scene, a bench has been placed along the wall dividing two stables, its smooth newness feeling out of place against the worn boards of the stables. But no matter-- most of the scene will be covered in close-up so the bench won't really stand out. The director sets up the scene-- "Jordan, you come in from over there--" she points to a vague location off camera-- "and Eliza, you're... no, why don't you both walk up to the bench and sit down."

So. The two actors step back a few steps, wait for "rehearsal... action!", then walk up, sit down, and play this important scene in which truths are revealed that move the story forward. That's all-- two actors, sittin on a bench, covered by two close-ups, one per side. They run it just once before clearing out for the crew to descend on the space and prep the scene, at which point we'll come back and quickly shoot it.

Sound familiar?

I am struck again and again by the... unlikeliness of this thing, this making of movies and television. Really, it shouldn't work: there are too many people, it's too disjointed; most of all, though, all of their work focuses on performers who perform (sometimes in rented horse stables in the middle of the night)without an audience. They only way it works - when it works - is through some alchemy of aligning desires and trust. So many people must be so proficient at their jobs (...a "boom guy?" Really? But, ya know, it's a talent, and it's important...), and must all desire quality above even, say, job security-- more, they all must trust that the others involved are equally committed and good at their own peculiar jobs. And the strangest job of all, of course, is held by those in front of the camera, those who must both forget the small army of tired, anxious, concentrated faces staring at them... and yet not. Those who must believe only in the intimacy of an imagined moment but don't tilt your head because you'll block the light!

As frustrated as I can get, folks-- I do respect the job a film actor does. (my constant question: do you?)

Anyway. Southern California is in the midst of a cold spell-- and out here, in the inland foothills, the temperature has dropped below forty degrees. Sure, it doesn't sound like much, but when you're under-dressed and standing around... I flip open my cel phone: 9PM. Friday on the East Coast. Happy Birthday to me, I think to myself as I gaze at the moon for a few seconds more before heading back inside.

The "bench scene" comes and goes. As we move on, I'm reminded again about the difficulty of "Be Good Now."

For those unfamiliar with the term, "Be Good Now" is, as those who study with me say, a" PK-ism". For me, Be Good Now refers to a particular challenge: one of the talents required to act on film is the ability to do wonderful, truthful work when we need you to do it. It matters not at all how good you were yesterday, or in rehearsal, or in your trailer, or even during the run-through fifteen minutes ago-- all that matters is your ability to dliver the goods when we call action. Theatre actors don't have this problem, as much-- they know when they need to Be Good (it usually begins a few minutes after 8 at night), and can set their emotional performance clock, their prep rituals, accordingly (Think not, Theatre Person? Imagine if the stage manager, even once, would walk into the dressing rooms at 7:45 and say "hey, guys? The audience is really late, so we're gonna push curtain to 10:30."). But the film actor....

The value I add on a set comes from the fact that I prioritize one thing, and one thing only: my client's performance in that monitor. I'm not looking at the focus, or the light; I'm not even looking at my watch. And what I see in that monitor is the moment of Now. And the way I see it, the film actor's job? Be Good Now. That's the point of all of it: the casting, the rehearsals, the re-writing, the re-lighting... and if the actor can't bring it, RIGHT THEN, in a chilly stable smelling of horse manure and hay... then, really, what's the point? Of all of this?

When everyone's fresh and there's plenty of time, my job is easy(ish), and rewarding. But as we move toward midnight, a crew of twenty in a cold, cramped horse stall... the pressure to allow the B+, to say sure, good enough, skyrockets.

The truth? Sometimes, just once in a while... we do it, Eliza and I. We allow the B+. Because we have to-- there's a flicker in her eyes, just a glance between us, and we both know it-- after hours of takes and re-takes, new angles, and all that waiting... her tank is dry. She is something of an all-star at Be Good Now, Eliza is-- but like all seasoned pros she's also had to develop a pretty damned good B+ as well. And sometimes it literally saves the day.

In my experience, the novice film actor has no B+. They just kinda fall apart.

MIDNIGHT passes, west-coast midnight... cast and crew have passed "cold and tired" a while ago... but thankfully, we end with a fight scene. Here's the thing: location doesn't matter, age doesn't matter-- Boy Actors the world over love them their Fight Scenes. The energy perks, the DP goes hand-held, which picks up the pace. Still, we go right up to twelve-hour before wrapping at almost 3.

The 101 freeway is empty, but I resist the temptation to go too crazy on the drive back --the last thing we need is a chance encounter with the CHP-- and we're back at about 3:40AM. I've been awake for almost 24 hours, most of it in transit. For my birthday I decide to allow myself a some sleep.

SO now you know.


When I wake up (at noon), good news: today we're "on the lot," and at about one PM Eliza and I commence the tag-team drive down the hill to Fox.

I will always have a fondness for the fact that Eliza is one of the few drivers consistently more aggressive than I; as we slalom down Coldwater Canyon, however, it occurs to me that she doesn't realize that a pretty starlet is likely to receive far different treatment from the Beverly Hills PD than some dude with an out-of-state license. (actually, in my speeding experience, having a New York City driver's license adds an all-or-nothing element to the proceedings: if the cop's from anywhere at all in New York, provided I can talk intelligently about the Yankees my license becomes a get-out-of-jail-free card. Otherwise, it's: "well I don't know how they drive in NEW YORK CITY...") (But I digress.)

So I've lost Eliza by the time I turn into the main gate. once there, I lie and tell the guard that I've never been here before. Why? Because no matter how many times I do this (and I had my first drive-on to the Fox lot in the late eighties), I never tire of the following:

Guard: "You been here before?"
Me: "Nope-- first time."
Guard: "OK. you're gonna go past New York Street, make a right at Star Wars, then right again..."

Make a right at Star Wars. For me that never gets old.

We've got four more long, long days before the episode is over. Four days of craft service, rehearsing in a trailer, running lines during the one-hundred-yard van trip from trailer to set; four days of staring at monitors and trying to keep the work fresh through that push-pull of waiting-acting-waiting-acting that is the Television Shoot.

I get to know Jed and Marissa, the young couple who've written the episode, pretty well; Jed, in particular, is attentive to all the goings-on. We talk acting, and though he still sometimes analyzes moments in terms of "shouldn't he do it like (line reading)?", he's getting the hang of trusting the actors to do some of the work he needs the script to do. He'll direct soon, and be good at it.

Provided, of course, he stops bursting into song. He's given to spasms of impromptu musical creativity, like the following after a scene is shot:

We're checking-- the gate!
We're checking-- the gate!
We're checking,
ch-checking-- the gate!

And then we'll-- move OONNNNN!!!

Really, Jed should just get it over with and write that Broadway musical that's inside him, yearning to breathe free. Maurissa, his partner, is supportive of this-- I want to tell her to stop enabling him! when suddenly she kicks in with a harmony on some Monty Python piece. Funny thing, love. And for no reason that I can explain, that reminds me of the AWESOME Pecan Pie Bars that are at Crafty. I'm off!

The days go on like this. As is common on TV, day and night become attached not to the movement of the sun but to call times, and meals. Finally, at eight one night, we're done. Eliza's got a commitment and she dashes off; I check into some non-descript motel, and crash.

Good thing, too. I'm awoken by my phone - it's Eliza, on the set. The next episode has begun. We were both too burnt out to work it the night before, and her first shot goes off at nine. ACTORS, pay attention: new character, new script. Twelve hours later. I badly want to return to the set, but for personal reasons I've got to head east. I can delay no longer.

Christmas asserts itself in funny ways in Southern California. Out here, one has to be reminded of the season; for me, that's done by the radio. Over the past week I've heard all my favorites, save for one: "Christmastime is Here," the choral theme to the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. I'm not ashamed to admit that I own not only the Special itself (on VHS and DVD) but Vince Grimaldi's classic soundtrack CD as well. So I'm about a mile from the Alamo place -- and I swear I do not make this up, I mean I'm two minutes from dropping off the car-- when on comes that chorus of young voices: "Christmas tiiiime is herrre...." I've got a few minutes to spare, so why not: I take a right and spin through the neighborhood for a minute, letting the song play out as I note the surprising quality and ambition of the lawn decor in this modest neighborhood.

Driving past one candy-cane-festooned walkway, I get it: this is all one needs, really-- a few quiet minutes in Inglewood, driving your rented Pontiac, listening to Charlie Brown while taking a self-guided tour of the Best of Southern California Holiday decor. The Holiday spirit is upon me at last.

So now a week has passed and it's Christmas Eve. After returning to New York, I've driven through the snow to Vermont, to Boston, and back; I've gone to one funeral, and another wake; it's raining, and I've got strepp throat. LA already feels a million miles away.

Or maybe not. By the time I leave my apartment to head to midnight mass, it's warmed up to sixty degrees-- with the rain, it's almost exactly the weather of my last night in LA. As I hustle through the rain, sprinting against the light across Houston Street, I marvel at a God that allows such a life.

Truly, I do. And as I'm thinking about that, and about my time in LA and being here now, it hits me: it was my birthday then. It's His birthday now. Happy Birthday to you, Lord.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

On Imagination, and Boredom: a letter to my class

This was written after a long class one night.

I've been thinking about class last Wednesday, and what we've got ahead of us.... and, in truth, I'm worried that we won't be ready to shoot next week. Oh, sure, I can get it all on film; we pretty much know what we're doing, who's going where, all that.

That's not my point. My point is that I left last night feeling that a number of the scenes lacked the connection, commitment and forward motion essential to the material. So I wrote this little note.... that turned into something of a missive. I tend to do that.

I think most of these scenes need another week. Normally, we'd just have to chalk this up to a learning experience and move on, but since this is the last session of the year we've got some wiggle room. As for what follows: be warned that some of it is a little tough-love, and read on.

AFTER CLASS, a few of you commented that watching me "step in" and run a little of the scene with Paula really helped. So let's talk about what you saw.

Like so many people in this business, I started out as an actor. I still love the doing of it. More, I respect the doing of it. And while I am not even beginning to suggest that I'm God's gift to the craft, I do know one thing: I am constitutionally unable to allow myself to be bored while I'm acting. Honestly, that is unthinkable to me. I can't imagine faking emotion. I can't imagine writing those silly notes about "line delivery" in my script.

The INSTANT I'm bored when acting... I'll do something. I'll think weird thoughts. I'll push, I'll stretch, I'll invent.

Every time I act I do this. Every single time I work with a private client, every single time I read with one of you in my office, I personalize (in other words, believe in YOU), I commit; I push you with the deep-rooted hope that you will, God-help-me, PUSH BACK. When and if you do, I start having fun.

So what, exactly, did I do when I read with Paula? Simple. First, I began with reality:

1) I know Paula.
2) I have a birthday. (I do!)

Then, all I had to do was use the MIRACLE POWERS OF MY IMAGINATION to believe that:

1) my birthday is tomorrow.
2) Paula gave me a crappy gift last year -- one of those gifts that SHE likes but no one else really does. (here, I realize, I can reference a family member who has a talent for this)
3) Paula isn't as good a friend as she thinks she is. And I want her to notice, respect, and deal with what I'm feeling.

Finally... I up the stakes:

I'm FUCKING SICK of her not noticing what I'm feeling. I'm FUCKING sick of that attitude, and if she was a FRIEND she'd notice that something's going on with me and she'd STOP PLAYING THAT STUPID GAME.

And that's it. I'm off to the races. All my energy is on Paula. If she indulges herself, I won't be patient, I'll CUT HER OFF OR JUMP HER LINE because this is MY LUNCH too, dammit (please note I'm no longer even thinking "scene"), and I'm not here to mark time while she looks around. Or, maybe I'll use what she's doing as fuel for the fire I'm feeling. Either way, I ain't bored. I am in the moment, and human moments are always, always, compelling.

To stay committed - to move, and to be moved by another - this is the point of acting, the challenge of it, the fun of it.

It's the talent.

And developing that talent is why you're in my class. Right?

Guys: we know we can speak English. We know how scripts work, basically: you say all of these words, the other actor says all of those words. Before we even got started in class I knew you all could do that.

So if that's all I see you doing... I love ya, but I'm bored.

I'm bored because, honestly? You're bored. Worse, you're doing something that you can only get away with in class: you're asking the audience to work harder than you are. You're asking US to care more, to believe more; you're asking US to push, to feel, to commit.... precisely those things we need you to do for us. That's your job. And you can never, ever get away with phoning it in out in the world; you shouldn't ever do it in class. And whenever your work or someone else's work feels slow, or draggy, "speeding up" won't help. Caring more will.

And, yes, last week was meant to be about the practical, but still.

Story for you:

About fifteen years ago (ouch), I was the artistic director of a theatre company in Boston, and I directed the Boston premiere of Execution of Justice, a play about the Harvey Milk assassination and the subsequent trial of Dan White. It's an epic script. There are twenty four listed cast members in the play, and I didn't double up a single one of them. (Because that's the Peter Kelley way, dammit!) It was an all-consuming, draining, impossible project. In short, I loved every minute of it.

Until opening night. The house was full, all the major Boston papers were there, hopes and expectations were high-- and somehow ("why" is still very much a mystery to me) one of the very first actors to speak... took a nice... long... pause before doing so. What we used to call a truck-driver pause (as in: "you could back a truck through that pause"). And all I could do was stand, horrified, as pause-itis spread like friggin' Herpes through the TWENTY-FOUR PERSON cast.

They added almost twenty minutes to the run time of the play that night. A two-hour, fifty-minute play that asked a lot of the audience to begin with. I knew that the famous Boston press was not, to put it mildly, going to be kind to us. I wanted to kill the cast. The stage manager did, too, so we called the cast into the house for a meeting after the audience had left, before the cast party was to begin. (No lethargy about getting to THAT, I imagined).

Me: "So, uhm.... what happened tonight?"

One actor, a leader of the bunch, all morning-talk-show contemplative: "it felt a little... off. It was slow."

Then another, nodding thoughtfully in agreement: "it definitely felt slow."

I was stunned. All this nodding, this clinical, objective assessment, as if I was in front of a panel of scientists discussing a far-off phenomenon that had nothing to do with them. As if the long long LONG, self-indulgent, bad community-theatre, spirit-killing pace that a PAYING AUDIENCE had just been forced to sit through to had not been their doing.

Me: ".......hey, GUYS?..."

I was later told several cast members felt certain I was going to hit them.

"THERE IS NO 'IT.' YOU are 'IT.' 'It was slow,' 'it was off,' 'it dragged...


YOU were slow. YOU were off. YOU dragged. Because YOU didn't care. PERIOD."

We were, for the most part, slaughtered in the press. Even remembering it, I gotta take a few deep breaths.

"OK, I see your point," you're thinking, "but what if you don't like (or maybe don't get) the script?"

Ahhhh, yes. Blaming The Script. Second story:

THERE'S an old Pledge of Allegiance exercise we did (no, not the one I sometimes do in class) back when I was studying acting. The exercise is simply this: say the Pledge of Allegiance... but as a monologue.

So, naturally, like any monologue, you are saying it to someone (of your imaginative creation) for a reason (of your imaginative creation).

That's it. That's the exercise. It's a choice-making exercise, it's a commitment exercise, it's an exercise meant to illustrate a baseline truth about (good) acting: never let the words do the work. YOU do the work. You can decide that you're using the Pledge to seduce someone, to cajole someone, whatever.

So this one woman, well... as she started in, she was terrified. She was slow, halting, and...pleading? She fought back (real) tears; it seemed for a moment is if she wasn't going to make it through. Though we didn't know what was happening, everyone in the class was riveted.

What had she invented? This: someone was holding onto her cute, tiny, four-year-old daughter... and if she didn't say the Pledge perfectly, word for word, that person was going to snap her little girl's neck off.

Brilliant. Why?

1) The stakes could not have been higher. More, the stakes were specific. I have mentioned the essential importance of specificity to some of you so many times, but I will do it again: as a choice, "someone is going to hurt my daughter" is vague, and therefore boring, and therefore useless. "That huge man with the thick forearms is going to snap my daughter's neck right off" is evocative, it's specific, and it's kind of horrifying.

See the difference?

2) the unlikeliness of failure. The thought that suddenly, with the stakes that high, she might screw up this simplest of things, and how the thought of screwing up paralyzed her. This is quite similar to people with fear of heights -- if they approach a high ledge they are gripped with an irrational fear that the laws of gravity might suddenly be reversed, or that they themselves might fail at standing. Standing. That simplest of things that they do every day suddenly becomes a precarious act.

The actor's complete belief in those two truths, in combination, made drama out of the speaking a set of words we've all heard hundreds of times. And, remember: she didn't even have another actor to work off of. All she had - all she needed - was her imagination and her ability to care.

Now I'm not suggesting that you have to make crazy-assed choices in your scene. I AM suggesting that even a crazy-assed choice is better than not being connected, and if you're not connected, hey, give it a shot.

Do you guys understand how severely, how impossibly, how laughably the odds are against you in this business? Why make them even worse by not caring?

Last point.

People ask me sometimes if I can "tell" talent. Those same people also (and mainly) want to know whether I could have "told" that the stars I worked with were going to make it when I first began working with them. Here's the thing: the people who ask may think these two questions are one and the same, but in reality they are only marginally related. Unfair, yes. But true.

First thing I will tell you: yes, I can see talent. It is as immediately apparent to me as beauty. (no, you may not ask me about yours)

The second thing I will tell you: none of the "famous" actors I have worked with was initially the most talented person in their acting class or the standout at the audition. None. Not one. (Actually, that's not true: there was one. But only one. And no, I'm not telling.)

Think about that for a second before you obsess about your level of talent.

What they all had in common was drive. They were driven to the point of being boring (they mostly wanted to talk about their careers, which gets old for an acting teacher pretty quick), and they were competitive to a point that was almost unhealthy.

Translation: they wanted to be the best person in the class. Every time. Every scene. Sometimes they were, sometimes they weren't. No matter-- each time, they gave it their very best shot.

Do you?

So there you go. Hope it wasn't too harsh, but then, hey, I'm an acting teacher-- I gotta blow it out now and then. Part of the job.
Thanks for listening.


Thursday, January 31, 2008

Park City Diaries, Vol. 2: a pilgrimage, indeed.

"It'll take about fifteen minutes, right?"

It's my first question as I climb into the cab. It's six AM, and my flight out of La Guardia's at 7:05. And that's not good.

Yes, it's true: I'm headed back to Park City. This year, I won't be there with a film; this year, I'm accompanying my friend and client Eliza Dushku, a Park-City novice who's appearing in a film in competition. Way back in December, when I found out her film got in, I was surprised to learn that no one had urged Eliza to attend the festival; now, five weeks and dozens of phone calls later, the crew has grown to four, including Eliza's agent, manager, and brother in addition to myself. I fear this makes me part of an entourage but I decide to refer to us all only as a crew. In truth, I'm not sure what to expect. Her team promises me that we're gonna do Park City right-- parties, swag, all of it.

So again I'm on a Pilgrimage. Some of you may remember that on last year's Pilgrimage I broke road warrior rule #1: Never, Ever, Check Luggage. Due to the last-minute nature of my travel plans, this year I'm violating Rule #2: Never, Ever, Book a Connecting Flight. Worse, I think to myself as our battered minivan bounces over the Williamsburg bridge (why do I always manage to flag down the hated minivan?): here it is I'm already late. The thought triggers a deja vu: I was late last year, as well, I think-- and I'm remembering that unlike my customary JFK-LAX route I can't simply "take the next flight" if I miss this one. But no worries: my cab driver is dangerously fast (my favorite!), and I'm there by twenty-five past six. LaGuardia is, praise Jesus, uncrowded.

As some of you may remember from last year, the one taste of The Good Life I allow myself is my Big Kahuna status on American Airlines. No endless line, no kiosk for me, no, I simply stride up to the first executive-class check-in agent I see and ask about my upgrade request. This morning it's Diane. Diane is impressively perky for 6:25 AM.

"Well let's just take a look, Mr. Kelley... (taptaptaptaptap)....OK, I can help you out to Dallas (taptaptap) and to Salt Lake..." Tap tap tap...

...all at once her face goes slack. It's as if somehow the Zapruder film has begun playing on her computer screen. She's hypnotized by what she sees, and mutters to herself:

"Oh my... wow."

I deduce that I won't be flying first class on the flight into Salt Lake, and tell her as such. She chuckles.

"No. That flight is..." --she runs her finger down the screen, still enthralled-- "forty nine seats oversold. Wow."

She glances at me, then back at the screen. Makes an executive decision. "OK, I'm gonna..." She resumes furiously tapping. A boarding pass spits out. She sneaks a conspiratorial smile.

"I stole an exit row for you on that Salt Lake flight." She slides me the boarding pass, and I actually detect a note of fear in her voice as she whispers: "Don't lose this."

Then, as I'm leaving she adds: "You know, it's a holiday weekend. Martin Luther King Day. That's what it is."

Well, not quite.

The remainder of my time in La Guardia is calm, and flight number one departs without incident. Thing is, though, I'm sick. My head throbs, my gut aches, every blink seems to scratch my eyeballs; I feel wickedly hung over without even having had the pleasure, as it were, the night before. The back of my throat has become Normandy Beach: I feel endless waves of virus storming my body's beachead defenses, and those bunkers ain't holding. Once onboard, I cannot nod off for more than five minutes without coughing myself awake. This sleep-cough-moan cycle repeats itself for the entire flight.

Eventually we touch down in Dallas. I cannot remember that last time I saw this broad an expanse of sky without at least a saw-toothed edge of mountains to define it. We taxi... and taxi... and taxi... our route even takes us up and down a slight hill, and I am certain I have never experienced that in an airliner before. I am, simply, overwhelmed by this airport: Kennedy is more crowded, sure, but it is dwarfed by the endless landscape of runways that seem to stretch all the way to that flat Texas horizon. Where am I?

Ends up I'm in a sovereign state known to its residents only as DFW. As I step off the jetway and get my bearings, I notice an odd feeling, a discomfort that takes me a moment to place: as a New Yorker, I am distrustful of the shiny and spacious and clean, and DFW is all three. Or maybe it's just that I'm still sick. I have almost four hours to wait in DFW and I am achy and exhausted and generally miserable. But as lug my roll-on in the general direction of my next gate (a TWENTY MINUTE walk, I am told), a pair of glowing, frosted-glass doors beckon to my left:

The Admiral's Club. Well, why not. I'm a mucky-muck, after all, might as well make use of it. I head inside.

"You're Platinum so you get a discount. It's forty dollars for a Day Pass."

This from Joan, behind the marble counter. We're alone in the lobby, and her hushed tone adds to the sanctuary feel of the place. Sensing my hesitation at the price, Joan begins to list the amenities that lie at the end of the hallway behind her: the club chairs, the internet access, the free beverages, blah blah blah. No sale, that's what I'm thinking-- but like any good real-estate agent, Joan's saved her fastball for last:

"We also have private showers. The ones here are new and really nice."

Suddenly, Joan and I are speaking the same language, and it has nothing to do with scoring a nooner with an American Airlines employee. I fork over the forty bucks and immediately head for the shower.

I am in shower suite #1, which is softly lit and roughly the size of a New York studio apartment. As I strip naked, I notice that the room is utterly silent. Every sound - the thunk of my carry-on as I drop it onto the rosewood luggage rack, the padding of my bare feet across the stone floor - is amplified. Or maybe I've been living in New York City for too long and am simply unaccustomed to peace.

One could drown under the sheer volume of warm water that cascades out of the rainforest showerhead. Isn't Texas in something of a draught? No matter. I am so tired, and this feels so good, I wonder if it isn't possible to sleep in a shower.

Well, it isn't. Not quite. Oh, it's comfortable enough, and warm enough, and there's something hedonistically ancient-Rome about curling into a fetal position on a warm-tile floor as you're gently massaged with hot water, but every time I start to nod off some primal, fear-of-drowning thing keeps me from the blissful nap I so desire. Suddenly, inspiration strikes. I step out of the shower, turn the water as hot is it can go, block the heat vent and stick a towel under the door (those old druggie skills put to use!)-- and in a few minutes I am in my own steam room. I drape the last pillowy white towel across the teak bench, and sleep. On reflection, I think it fair to say that I've not slept naked and blanket-less before in my life. At least not sober.

Out into the lounge, refreshed. I settle into a plush leather club chair and look around.

I am in the land of middle-aged White Dudes. It's so perfect, so uniform, it could be an exhibit in some exotic zoo, or one of those dioramas in a natural history museum. Funny thing, though: no one's wearing a suit here. All the Middle-Aged White Dudes are dressed to travel. Ill-fitting jeans (or pleated khakis) cinched too tight (and didn't those thin, black-and-chrome belts go out in the eighties?), with a polo shirt or black long-sleeved sweater up top.

Oh, and the Bluetooth. All of 'em. Every single one, yammering away, and as I listen to them I marvel, again, at the inefficiency and pomposity of American corporate culture (an oxymoron, yes?). I actually hear the following shouted into a Bluetooth with neither humor nor irony: "...yeah, Jeff emailed me that they've already got boots on the ground at the convention, so are we there in an overlay capacity?..."

'Are we there in an overlay capacity??' I want to tell this guy, who appears to be single, that the black-shoes-and-wide-jeans look he's rocking, coupled with that attitude... well, throw that Bluetooth in the mix and it's pretty much guaranteed that he will never, ever get laid without the aid of a credit card. But he's on a rap, so I decide it best not to interrupt his Flow.

As any Pilgrim knows, all rest stops must end, and it's time for me to get myself to Salt Lake. Off I go, to E-23.

The mob surrounding E-23, anxious and quiet, is not a good sign. Just as I'm near the gate, the standby list flashes on: still over forty names on standby for this flight. But I've got a boarding pass (thanks, Diane!) so I'm cool, and am not at all tempted by the announcement that passengers willing to give up their seat will get five hundred dollars (!) worth of free travel. Soon, the flight is called (on schedule!), and I'm on the plane. Seat 8A. Not a Big Seat, but not bad. And and and... my immune system seems to be beating back this cold. Things are looking up.

But as I'm gazing out the window, thinking thoughts of Park City, the voice of our Captain From the Flight Deck (do they all attend the same Airline Pilot voice-over school in the Midwest?):

"Hi folks-- well, we felt a little thud up here while we were gettin' our cargo loaded on-- as you can see, we've got a full flight, lots of bags, lots of skis... I had our first officer take a walk around the aircraft, do a visual inspection... aaaaand it looks like we've got a minor puncture in the skin. So, uhm, what all this means is... I'm gonna have to ask you all to get off the plane, because we're gonna take it out of service."

Why, oh why, did I break rule number two? NEVER, EVER, TAKE A CONNECTING FLIGHT. NEVER. EVER.

I am instantly in crisis mode. While my fellow passengers sit, stunned in a momentary haze of shock and denial, I am out of my seat like a shot, and within thirty seconds am grilling the gate agent on the situation. Ends up they're looking for a spare plane (...a spare plane? Like, "yeah, take the old DC-10 out back, keys are under the visor, should have about half a tank???"), and the relentlessly optimistic Gate Lady says she can "squeeze me onto a 9:10 PM flight." No good. But she assures me that there is no better place in the world to get a spare plane (again: a SPARE PLANE) than Dallas.

Amazingly, she's right. Less than an hour later and I'm back in a new seat 8A, on a shiny new plane at the very next gate over (and... are those passengers I see, boarding our old plane? Suckers.) All we need to do is push back.

...and get there.
And get the rental car.
And get to Park City.
And figure out where, exactly, I'm staying.
And go to Eliza's dinner and, afterward, the film's premiere.
At 8:30 PM. I glance at my cell phone: it's 2:50PM, Mountain Standard Time.

I suddenly wish I could take another shower.

Remarkably, the rest of the journey is incident-free.

Or had been, I think while sitting in my rented SUV, at a dead stop, staring at the endless stream of taillights leading into Park City. I still have heard no word from Eliza. It occurs to me that perhaps I won't. That's OK. I look up at the mountain ridges rising on either side of me, their high snowpack now purple with the very last of the light, and it hits me, again:

God, it's beautiful here. Maybe all these delays have a point. Maybe even this traffic jam. See, people ask me sometimes why I'm religious, more so now then when I was younger.

Maybe it's this: in the end, our life (all of us, Our Lives) is nothing more or less than what we do. Not what we hope for, or talk about, or fear; not what we want to do, or absolutely plan on doing, but the cumulative results of what we actually do. For me, more and more often I find I'm not at all sure of the results of a thing at the moment that I do the thing. But sometimes in those moments, those left-or-right, stop-or-go seconds right before a decision, there's a deep, quiet feeling, not so much that the action I choose is the right thing to do, but that it's the only thing to do. More: it's the only thing I can do. And sometimes, underneath that quiet feeling (if I look for it) is deeper feeling still, all but undetectable among the noise of my own vanities or doubts or fears, but it's there: a kind of trust that this thing I do will be the right thing. Even if I don't know what the right thing is.

It's that feeling that I have come to call Faith.

So it is with my being in Park City, in this SUV, in traffic. An act of faith.

I speak truth when I tell you that these are my thoughts as I make the (illegal) left turn onto Main Street... and my phone rings. Eliza.

"Pete, where are you? I just put your name at the door for the cast dinner, but we're sitting down-- how soon can you get here?"

Fifteen minutes later and still in my hiking boots and travel clothes and I'm seated between Eliza and her agent at a table elegantly set for a three course dinner. As goblets of wine are poured, our host points out that our meal is courtesy of one of the seven master sushi chefs in America. He then asks us to lift our appetizer plates-- underneath each of our plates are room key holders for the Venetian Lake Tahoe, and we're all thrilled-- until he informs us that only one holder actually contains a working key-- ends up Alan Rickman is the holder of the lucky key. Then discussion of business while enjoying the lobster truffles, the Kobe beef sirloin tips in a caramelized Wasabe marinade, the macadamia souffle with champagne sauce, then it's off to the premiere. Eliza goes to walk the press line; our crew has swelled to six, and there's a little bluffing, a little palming of tickets required to get us all in... finally, at eight-thirty, I'm sitting next to Eliza as the lights go down.

"What do you think, Pete?"

Eliza whispers the question in my ear. To this day, she is the only person I allow to call me "Pete."

I want to tell her that this is my favorite time. These few seconds, so, so precious: this magic time between when the lights have gone down, the chattering's stopped, and the movie's about to start. It is my favorite time in the world. I exist in these few seconds so fully that the rest of my life is balanced out - the disappointments, the growing questions, the growing fears. I think it may be my fate to be addicted to these seconds. I prize them more than money, or sex; more than the sense of security (that I so utterly lack) that I value more with age. These feelings are a voice, an articulate confirmation that this is why I'm here. I want to tell her how lucky we are to have a Favorite Thing, and to know it, that the years will teach her how many people spend their entire lives searching unsuccessfully for that thing. I want to tell her that this, just this, this moment, is why I crawled out of bed in New York City and into a cab and onto a plane and onto another plane and into a rental car to find myself in a movie theatre in the Utah mountains, thousands of miles from where I woke up. And I want to tell her that this moment would have been a little... less, somehow, if our journey to get here had required nothing more than a cabride uptown.

"I think it's pretty cool," I whisper back. "And I'm proud of you."

And it occurs to me that it's a good thing I took that shower. But that, I keep to myself.