Friday, January 13, 2006

The Curse of Human Frailty

Although the start of 2006 (I've already ditched my Timist membership) saw me complete work on three short screenplays -- a 15-minute mocumentary, a 7-minute mock commercial, and a 25-minute short film -- the new year feels like it's begun with an anchor-thud. By some elaborate, mysterious (even to me) tap dance, I continue managing to eschew the growing legion of bear-trap-bill-collectors who are the curse on the other end of my telephone's every ring. MasterCard started my day off today; 9:04 a.m. some wind-up CSR with the nasally affectation of a telephone operator out of I Love Lucy called. She's called before, I presume, because when I tell her I wasn't me, she asked if I was my brother. I hung up at that point, confused and rankled by the metaphysics implied by her question.

An hour later I reaped what I'd sewn with comments I sent along to a magazine editor the evening before. My latest article was an advertorial for a client selling time on these 25th century thermal massage beds in his wellness center. He had some technical corrections for my article, I added them, but the editor claimed he could not find them in my article -- we're talking about eight words in total; an utter needle in the haystack of the entire magazine's copy. But I had to make some remark in my reply about "the blind bastard" editing the magazine. Well, the blind bastard called me soon after MasterCard telling me he didn't need my snarky remarks in email. My response? I "Xavier-ized" the man. Christ, I spend so much time and energy honing my vocabularly and my "way" with words, only to tell some guy I've never met before (but who sounded like a cool guy, just the same) to basically Fuck Off. I later apologized, but only after my atomic sense of shame rose in me like spiritual vomit. We eventually spoke on the phone and everything was straightened out, but I had to think, Gosh, why is my approach to life "All Vitriol, All the Time!"?

The other night a friend and I made a lunge for better karma by driving 90 minutes out of Windsor, Ontario to the town of Wallaceburg, "Home of Wambo." I haven't the slightest idea what in the name of God "Wambo" is, but I feared he/it lurked in the shadows between the video store and the McDonald's on the main strip. We went there to help out as stage-hands for a dress rehearsale of their production of Stephen King's Misery.
As an aside, the drive was actually a lot of fun. My buddy and I headed out to the boondocks of the area -- Tilbury, Chatham -- and stopped at one of those roadside rest stops so my friend could jam down a KFC heart-stopper (my only tepid concession to "heathfulness" is not eating fastfood; I love the taste of it, and would gain a hundred pounds by next month were I to fall off the wagon.)

After quaffing down his ventricle-busting dinner, we headed off into the Ontario night -- unseasonably warm, thank goodness; I'd actually gone for a long and enjoyable bicycle ride earlier in the day -- and followed the convoluted meandering Mapquest directions to Wallaceburg. Man, we drove through literally the ass-end of nowhere. Not since driving across the Canadian prairies in the late 1980s had I seen such vast nothingness -- and this at night, only to heighten the "lost in the space" sensation prickling my latent agorophobia. There is now no question in my mind that Mapquest is a subsidiary of one of the major oil companies. That's the only way to explain the long-way-around directions the Web site offers.

Driving past all those farmhouses with single lights glowing in the windows, I wondered if the government of Canada even knew those people lived there, if they paid taxes, if even God had them in His address book. After passing MacDougall's Drain -- yes, that famous drain! -- and following County Road 43 past 29, and cutting back to Claymore Road, Electric Road, Baldoon Road, and I-don't-know-whatall, we passed through a town called Oungah. I shit you not. Oungah. Then a short time later we came upon the "Welcome to Wallaceburg" sign that informed us about the residency of one Wambo.

Quite a trek. I have a nostalgic thing for backwater towns, burgs, and muncipalities. This drive really tickled my yen.
Our friend, whom I'll call MIKE, is starring in Misery and hearing he and the crew were shorthanded (this was the night of their first dress rehearsal; occurring two nights before the play's opening). They needed a couple of stage-hands to run out props to the stage at various times, or bring props backstage, so my buddy and I made the jaunt to help out. MIKE performed in the play in Windsor last October and I was blown away by how well the story played on stage, and how well he and his co-star, ANNIE WILKES, brought their characters to life. So, they took the play on the road and Wallaceburg is familiar -- actually home -- territory to MIKE.

Let me say here and now that I have a newfound, deeply held respect for the time and effort and skill that go on behind the scenes of any play. I'm a wretched stage-hand, wandering onto the darkened stage at the wrong times, crashing into the actors, grabbing the wrong props -- one of which was a six-inch butcher's knife.

This anecdote fits into my meditation on human frailty because the rehearsal didn't go well. The actors were super, but most of the technical aspects surrounding their performance went very badly. The wretchedness of my stage-hand impression was heightened by a lack of "glow tape" on the stage floor that might have guided my cloven-hooved steps in the devil's-sphincter-darkness between scenes. Things like this always happen before productions; it's a process of working out the bugs and miscues and all of that. But my friend MIKE rightly voiced his gargantuan expletive-laden frustration (he and I get along so well because he is no shrinking lilly) about the foul-ups because they were only coming to light TWO DAYS BEFORE THE SHOW. It seems the technical crew were pretty lax (fuck it, lazy, they were lazy) about getting their acts together, and ate up the actors' rehearsal time with their putzing around during the last few weeks.

By the end of the performance MIKE was vilified in front of the skeleton crew for his boisteriousness. Maybe I'm a terrible friend, but I sat by silently as it occurred. Man, nothing burns my ass more than seeing the guy who's only crime is speaking the truth having his ass handed to him. Tonight's the opening night of Misery in Wallaceburg. If MIKE doesn't lose his shit, it'll be a great performance. He and his co-star have the talent and presence and timing to ad-lib through any technical flub.

Let's hope the Curse of Wambo doesn't befall them.

I once heard it noted that people get angry with others when they see flashes of themselves in them. I've always dismissed this as deflectionist crap. But after my embarrassing performance on the telephone with the magazine editor, I'm wondering if this might not possess some truth. Fact is, I come from a long tradition of miserable grouches. My family in Ireland goes back more than 950 years -- St. Patrick once walked across my family's farm in County Kildare. My maternal grandfather was a formal member International Order of Old Bastards. He once told a Catholic priest to "Fuck off." And God help you if you were a Royal Imperialist shooting your mouth off about Lady Thatcher. So, the cosmic stew that is my gene pool is electric with rankled impatience. I used to fight against it. Which led me to drinking more than twenty ounces of whiskey a day for a couple of years, culminating in a surreal eight-day hospital stay in 1997. So, I'm claiming powerlessness over crossbow temper? Claiming that "I was just following orders!" from my genetic make-up? Horseshit. This is the reason why I don't listen to Dr. Joy Brown or watch Dr. Phil on TV -- I can't stand hearing the mewlings of disaffected people dodging Melbatoast blame for their uninspired quirks and lapses.

I am cursed, as are we all, with human frailty. Which has really shrunk my hopes and notions of heaven. I see no Shangri-La beyond this world, but can only hope for a place filled with plastic-wrapped furniture, an all-day buffet, where there are no light bills or property taxes to pay.

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