Tuesday, April 6, 2010

NCIS - LA: finally, a working stiff

I got paid for last Friday.

Yeah, OK, so what... except: Friday was a holiday, and we didn't shoot.

Again, I know: so what?

Here's so what-- for me (and perhaps you), it's been "eat what I kill" my entire adult life. Prior to now, I've never, ever been paid for not working. Not on New Years, not the Fourth of July, not on Christmas. I get sick? Bummer for me. Vacation? Factor in the loss of income and decide if it's worth it. Where's the rent coming from next month? Wait for the phone to ring, and see. Which wears a body down, after a while.

Many of you know what this feels like. Others have lived it for a time, and said "not for me, thanks." Still others read this and think (perhaps rightly): that is simply no way for an adult to live.

I hear ya. But until recently it's been the only life I ever knew.

Besides, there's an honesty, a kind of dignity in it: you HAVE to bring your A-game, every day-- because, as is often said, Results Don't Lie. The phone rings? You're doing something right. It doesn't? Get up a little earlier, work a little harder. And if that doesn't work... take a long, hard look in the mirror. (But if it comes to that, please, please: respect yourself. Most people will never have to take that look in the mirror.)

For me, working in theatre or film has always been a calling, a privilege even to be asked-- but until now, it's never been a job. So this latest development has been something of a surprise. And after decades of being "that guy" on sets ("who's That Guy?" "I dunno-- I think he knows the star, or something...")-- it is a revelation to realize that I have become part of the rag-tag community on the lot.

And I gotta say, it's nice. The day after St. Patrick's Day, Ron, the Guard, who greets me with a smile every day, asked if I was hungover from The Big Night. I told him that we New England Irish Catholics think of St. Paddy's as Amateur Night-- and when I left for the day he said he'd been telling everyone that, all day long. He loved it! That doesn't sound like much, I know-- but if you've never had it, it's a big deal, indeed.

So, yes. It's nice to wait my turn at the gate to swipe my ID. It's nice to flirt with the payroll ladies. It's nice to have the wardrobe guy say to me, excitedly: "they got Chinese chicken salad at crafty! Better get over there!"

Wanna know a secret? It reminds me of theatre, this misfit-toy feeling on the lot. We're just a bunch of oddballs trying to do our best to make a thing good. And tomorrow we'll do it again. And again, the day after that. Except for two weeks at Christmas, I've been working this job every weekday since last July.

Which is fine by me.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

This has nothing to do with acting...

...but a lot to do with Easter. It's a few years old, but still. Hope you like it.

I saw Jesus walking down East Fourth Street today.

He was dressed entirely, and simply, in white, and carried over his shoulder an improbably large crucifix, which made a hollow scraping sound as it trailed along the pavement behind him. He looked, from the the high angle of the front window of my sixth-floor apartment, an awful lot like one of the neighborhood kids, mainly due to A) his street-fashionable buzz cut, and B) his gleaming white Pumas, just visible underneath his robes.

In truth, I heard Jesus' coming before I saw him, for his arrival was heralded by a repeating hymn that grew louder as he approached. I cannot state with certainty that what I was hearing was in fact a hymn, being that it was in Spanish; also, since the single hymnal voice was issuing loudly from a pair of PA speakers strapped onto the top of a Toyota (the roof was which was protected from harm by a NY Mets towel), little beyond the melody line could be discerned. The effect from my living room was that of an ecclesiastical ice-cream truck, luring customers with the promise of salvation rather than a cold Mister Softee.

And it seemed to be effective, for behind the boy Jesus (and a gang of somber apostles, all similarly white-robed) there trailed a crowd of a few hundred varied souls. Mothers in clumps, quietly pushing strollers, the elderly, and even teenaged Puerto Rican couples, side-by-side, hands squeezed into one another's back pockets. That particular sight gave me pause to consider for a moment the eternal question of What Would Jesus Do, especially as regards Public Displays of Affection. I concluded he would not mind, even if (as was currently the case) he was limping along with his burden just a few yards ahead.

This procession was capped at either end by an NYPD cruiser, each gliding silently at a respectful distance. They made their presence known mainly by their strobing red lights, which added an odd sense of holiday festivity to the procession.

But Jesus. He'd been taking his burden seriously, shifting his slow course left and right to avoid manhole covers and other minor street obstacles that might jar his load.... but as I looked down at him now, he seemed to be veering purposefully to the right, limping even slower toward the line of parked cars along the curb...

...and then I saw it too. Money.

A couple of bills, just pinched under a tire and fluttering almost free. I was too far away to see their denomination, but I could make out the coloring identifying them as among the newer bills. It had to be at least a ten-spot, maybe more. They had blown there, clearly, and would not remain there long. What Would Jesus Do, indeed?

I believe there is a biblical passage that observes that in moments of decision we are all alone. Or perhaps that was George Bernard Shaw. Or Mark Twain. Whatever the source, I have always felt it to be the case, and so I was sympathetic to the forces I imagined were tugging at the young Jesus as I watched unobserved. What moral calculus, I wondered, was being done so quickly in his head?

He passed the bills by. It was hard to tell from where I was, but I think he may have sped up a bit, pressing forward with just a little more sense of urgency as he continued on his journey.

By the time his followers had passed and the warbling hymn-song had grown distant, the money was gone.

And I felt at that moment overwhelmed, in that way that comes upon one (or at least me, sometimes) without warning. The young Jesus had been given a gift-- a story that would, over his life, be worth far more than the value of the bills he'd left behind. And I'd been given a gift, too; I knew it. I just wasn't sure what it was.

Maybe a reminder of the value of having something, anything, to believe in.