Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Backstage dramas

Looks like you can either read books or write them. I haven't read an entire book in two years. But I have been writing one--and rewriting and now for the third time rewriting it again MUCH funnier and meaner--which takes up every extra minute of time.

This is between my five other jobs: teaching "Movies About Movies" at the college way up the tollway; writing theater and restaurant reviews for Dallas Observer; writing a TV blog as an "expert blogger" for; teaching swimming and water aerobics to big and little people; writing about "green living" as a freelancer for another publication. And for fun I'm in my fourth month of thrice-weekly bootcamp sessions to try to keep up my stamina for all the other stuff. It's me and 19 Buffys grunting through squat-thrusts and diamond-push-ups for 45 minutes in Lakeside Park.

So blogging here has slowed considerably and for that, I'm sorry. I see stuff every day that I want desperately to post and comment on--today's dropping of charges against the Duke lacrosse players, a story the other day about how there are 150 staffers in the White House who graduated from Pat Robertson's Regent University law school (so, like, why don't they put the Bush library THERE?) and so on and so on and so I never get around to blogging about these things.

So you get very little from me these days. But at least I don't write a crap-blog like this one. (I read her stuff every now and then just to remind myself how utterly banal "mommy diaries" are and to be grateful I'm neither a mommy nor a totally self-involved-to-the-point-of-psychosis radio "personality.")

Clutch the pearls, I feel a nasty swoon coming on.

During my bouts of insomnia--which occur often enough to make me empathize with Anna Nicole's need for an on-site, Hippocratic-oath-ignoring prescription-writer--I get the occasional flashback to the many long nights I spent backstage at the Ruth Taylor Theater at Trinity University. This was in the days when getting three hours of sleep was enough. I got through college on a total of about 90 hours of sleep spread across four years.

Golly, it's sad how that lovely theater was razed a few years ago to make way for a new and much uglier acting space paid for by someone richer and more influential than the Taylors (I'm guessing at this). I spent many happy hours in the Taylor Theater, doing the "Y-buzz" in Lessac diction classes and "warming up" for acting lessons.

There's one night in that theater that I particularly and fondly remember. And it's one of those memories that now to me is about all that was so sweet about being 21 and a college student. You'll realize one day--decades after you earn your diploma--that you retain almost nothing about the classes you took, but you do remember four or five pivotal peak experiences that occurred outside of classes and that you didn't realize at the time would be the only things you retain from your schooldays. These are the memories that will drift back during bouts of insomnia or when you get a certain taste on your tongue or detect a whiff of something in the air that triggers a sense-memory from way back when.

Since I was not one of the ingenues starring in the shows, I was permanently assigned to the backstage crew during the runs of plays (back then, the busy theater department at Trinity did more than a dozen full-scale productions a season). I ran props, built sets, sewed costumes, ushered, poured Pepsis at intermish. Loved it all except hanging lights (acrophobia!) and stage managing (director with penchant for groping undergrads and showing up drunk on Rusty Nails!).

So one night I'm on the "strike" crew for a show. This means you show up after the last performance and spend all night tearing down the sets and cleaning the space down to the bare boards. It's grueling work but doing it around a bunch of dishy college theater guys could be pretty amusing. They'd put some Stones or Stevie Wonder on the sound system and we'd sing and dance around in our overalls till 3 or 4 in the a.m., then hie down to the only 24-hr restaurant nearby, the late and much-lamented Earl Abel's, which bit the dust, like the Ruth Taylor Theater, a few years ago. Earl's had godawful food, but it was cheap and served by ancient waitresses who believed "the higher the hair, the closer to God."

All one semester I'd had a raging crush on a tall, handsome acting major named Charles. He had long Jesus-y hair and a full beard that made him look older than the other college boys. I got to know Charles during a life drawing class. He stood at the easel next to mine and made hilarious comments as we charcoal-sketched portraits of the nude male model Charles nicknamed "Gumby."

Charles really baked my beans. And although he'd bedded two out of four of my suitemates, he'd never shown anything but a friendly/platonic interest in me. We shared Gumby--but no pokey.

Till that magical night backstage after some show at the end of fall term. It might have been West Side Story or The Lion in Winter. Don't remember that part.

There I was, sweeping and tidying around in the dark depths behind the velvet curtains, when suddenly Charles swoops into view from the stage door and beelines right for me. For whatever reason--I never asked--he swept me into his arms and laid a wet smooch right on me. Then he slammed me against the concrete wall and felt me up, punctuating the action with more heavy smoochery. This went on for about 20 minutes and then some invisible clock struck and he was gone, leaving me heaving and sweating back there in the dark all by myself. In my memory, embellished by time, he was wearing a tuxedo and a black cape. But more likely, it was Army surplus bell-bottoms and a ratty black poncho. I came out from the behind the curtains and saw that nearly everyone had gone home. It must've been late, but I walked alone back to the dorm, through the misty fog that always rose up in the wooded copse that sat between the theater and the west side of campus. My lips felt bruised. I was dazed. Dreamlike, it was.

Sounds kind of gross as I type it out like that. But it was sexy and thrilling at the time. Charles' mouth tasted like Marlboros and his hair smelled of Prell shampoo. I thought he was the sexiest man alive.

Back in the life drawing class a few days later, Charles was his same jokey self. It was as though our backstage encounter had never happened. Perhaps he didn't remember it (he was known to ingest the odd 'shroom now and again).

I never told my slutty roommate about the impromptu makeout backstage. Don't think I told anyone, now that I think about it. They wouldn't have believed me anyway.

Charles graduated a semester early. I didn't know this until he mentioned it one day in life drawing. It was maybe the last week of classes and as we headed over to the Student Union on the mid-class break (life drawing was a three-hour "lab" twice a week), he said, "I'm graduating next week." And I burst into tears.

Charles stopped right there by the fountain in the middle of the plaza by the art building and gave me a long hug. He may even have kissed the top of my head. I reached around my neck and pulled off my favorite love beads. Don't laugh. We wore love beads. Mine were blue ceramic from Czechoslovakia and I wore them nearly every day. I put them around Charles' neck and said, "I'll really miss you." And he ran his fingers over the beads and said, "That's the nicest thing anyone's ever given me." If it were a movie, music would have swelled up from the soundtrack of Hair.
That was it. He was a sweetie. And weeks later, he was gone and I never saw him again. I heard sometime back that he married well and moved to the East Coast and opened his own theater somewhere. He'd be old enough to be a good King Lear now. He was a wonderful actor.

And a damn fine kisser.


Blogger Lisa Elizabeth said...


6:28 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Hoffa said...

Reading a real post from you is right up there with if they brought back Garanimals. Oh, how I've missed you.

Shelly (Superholmie)

8:51 AM  
Blogger alicia said...

it's weird, the smallish things we almost forget that come rushing back to us. sometimes i'll be driving, and i'm slammed with the memory of a moment i'd forgotten even existed, and it's like i'm back in the moment, reliving it, and then seconds later it's gone.

i love great memories. i love that we don't know we're making them until years after we make them.

10:36 AM  
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2:18 PM  
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