Continuing Theatrical Work in Progress

Woman in Straight-jacket:

I popped a couple of Wellbutrin last night to kick start a mania.  Off all drugs for a few months and making a dive, it’s worth a try. If that doesn’t work, I’ll add the Adderol. Thankfully, my manias are controllable. I don’t think I’m Jesus. I don’t fly to Greece to rebuild the Pantheon. I just get through the day without the stabbing physical pain of consciousness.  Some depressives describe depression as an all-over body ache, an anvil pressing against their heart, the tightening of a sieve around their head, a first-degree burn behind their eyes.  Wretched thoughts are the least of it. Any idiot can control negative thoughts with simple cognitive exercises found in an Oprah reviewed self-help book. I am worthy. I deserve to exist. Everything is okay. I am not to blame, but after practicing the positive thinking techniques, and quieting the mind, the body has it’s own mind and it doesn’t respond to the bullshit as easily. The body is a third consciousness that picks up cues far beyond the reach of rationalization. It doesn’t give a shit if I’m worthy and deserve to exist. It doesn’t care if everything is okay.

A drug, in this case, Wellbutrin, even as a placebo, can stop the physical pain of sadness. In fact, it can calm the body even if the mind continues to insist that life is not worth living. If your body feels good you don’t care if life is worth living or not. You can go out for a pizza, take a bath, read a magazine, without the burning coals of

Hells kitchen under your feet.

No, I do not work for a pharmaceutical company. I just believe that the body-mind connection, though real, is not dependable. I know that the mind controls the body, alters the chemical cocktails and adjusts the hormonal thermostat. But if somebody takes an iron frying pan and slams you over the head, the mind can’t stop the bleeding. Depression is a well aimed frying pan.

If you don’t have a job you can’t take a vacation. I don’t work so I can’t take any time off. I am constantly not working, day in and day out, year in and year out and the monotony of it wears on me. If you don’t work a job you are usually working in other ways that are much more exhausting. Not only that, you don’t get paid. If you think that not working is easy, give it a try. The mind and body were not built for leisure, and they rebel against it. You will fidget and worry and piddle-diddle around with various projects and find yourself neck deep in half-assed projects that need to be finished. You don’t have time to finish them because you don’t have a job and you don’t need to be anywhere in the morning, so you can sleep in or get up and lounge around procrastinating, and soon it’s 5pm and all you’ve done is create another half-assed project that you can’t finish because you aren’t working.  A job brings numerous benefits, the least being the paycheck, the best being a structure, scaffolding for your life from which you offshoot. Without a foundation, a building falters, and in this case the building is your life, the foundation your job, whether you hate or love it, plan to quit or climb the ladder.  Lousy or good job- both potential springboards.

Artists speak of their “work” – and work it is, but work is not considered work without a paycheck. Cash doesn’t count either. There must be a paycheck and a pay stub and an acknowledgement from the government, as they garnish your wages, that your work is valued monetarily. Manual labor is sometimes immune to this rule. Digging a ditch is work, paycheck or not. Digging your own grave is the ultimate expression of meaningful work. You are attending to the inevitable, the place you will go when you are, finally, on vacation.

My friends think I’m a bum because I don’t get a paycheck. Well, not exactly. I get a check from the government because I am disabled. I am disabled because I cannot work. I cannot work because I cannot wear pantyhose. I cannot wear pantyhose because it makes me insane. I am insane therefore I am unemployable. I am unemployable because I am disabled. I cannot work because I am too busy working. I cannot work because my number one life priority is freedom.  Freedom is Uncle Sam’s middle name, so he on some level understands which is why he pacifies people like me with 700 bucks a month. Otherwise we would take to the streets and rob the drugstores blind.

My psychiatrist suggested Social Security Income, i.e. disability, because he considered my depression disabling on a global scale. I questioned my ability, as a white, educated woman, to pay inspection. The disability interview that applicants of SSI are required to endure. My psychiatrist said, don’t worry. With the letter I write for you, they’ll take heed.

I went to the interview dressed in skirt, blouse and pantyhose. I walked into government office in the pantyhose and sat down regally, with purse set primly on my starched and ironed polyester lap. When they called my number, I stood tall and waltzed with confidence and elegance to the desk of a government employee whose job it was to decide whether I was insane.

I don’t remember the questions I was asked.  The female government employee, wearing the same blouse and skirt, looked over my psychiatrist’s letter and said, “Looks like you’ve had a difficult time.” She expected me to extrapolate. I did not.

I worked against type, as I had learned in my Sanford Meisner acting classes.

“Well, no not really” I answered.  “I think my psychiatrist is prone to exaggeration.”

“In what way?” She was now in confrontational mode. I was not following protocol. I was, I expect, supposed to blubber and start speaking in tongues.

“I think, actually, that I am merely misunderstood. I feel I am perfectly able to work if given the right opportunity.”

“What opportunity might that be?” she asked.

I smiled demurely and took a Kleenex out of my pocketbook. I held the Kleenex to an eye.

“If only I could give as I want to give, to the people who are truly disabled? Who truly need guidance.  I am very good with children, for example, and also very good with older people. Do you offer any employment placement services here?”

That was it. She circled something at the bottom of the form. Stapled it to the psychiatrist’s letter, threw it into her outbox and leaned towards me.

“Thank you for coming in. We’ll be in touch.”

A few weeks later I received a check for 723 dollars. I am still receiving checks for 723 dollars each month under the stipulation that I remain too insane to work, too insane to improve, to insane to rebel, but not too insane to need more than 723 dollars a month to live on.

Man in a suit:

My law practice, specializing in marital divorce, doesn’t bring in the kind of income I had hoped for. People who want a divorce, at least in Milwaukee, are hiding their money from their spouses and themselves. They are money-poor, money desperate, money motivated. They’ve lost the love they thought would save them, and although they profess relief, it’s an enormous loss to them on a deep level. The deepest level.  I get the brunt of that deep level anxiety in that they don’t want to fork over any dough in the process. They just want out. Out, but with some money left over.

They all cry poverty, and being that I’ve been divorced a couple of times, I feel their pain. I take them on, hoping they’ll pay me after the settlement, but that rarely happens. I can’t turn people away. I wasn’t raised that way, neither were my brother and sister, and that’s probably part of the reason we struggle through life like salmon swimming upstream during a severe drought. It’s like this: We don’t like to fuck people over and we don’t like to see people suffer. We don’t like to go to bed at night thinking that we made a buck due to someone’s vulnerability, fear, gullibility or just plain stupidity.  The universal stupidity that suggests an old-fashioned trust based on business ethic principals to which every suited ape, you assume, is attuned.

For whatever reason, we Casey’s, with the exception of my sister, would rather be duped than dupe others. It’s not that we’re necessarily fans of Buddhist or Christ like principals, we just don’t want the hassle that being an asshole eventually brings to the fore. It’s selfish, really, and lazy. The ya-da-ya-da sucker-born-every-minute mind-set is a low life attitude and becomes it’s own punishment.

Woman on a hotel stool with Martini:

Sitting at the Taj Hotel bar in Boston with two men and a woman. I’m there on a whim, meeting an old friend for a beer, choosing the hotel because it’s an easy landmark. Martini doused, the two men, one puffy and white, the other thin and Indian, roll through polite conversation towards the subject of profitability.

“I got out of Harvard and hell, I was just a kid, and the opportunity came along, porn films, and I made a shit load of money, but that was a long time ago.”

“Hey, man, I know” says the Indian. “Did the same thing. Still going on. Did you work with Mac Burgess?”

“Well, sure, I guess, think so.”

“Mac’s still with it.”

“I would like to say I’m out of the game. As I said, made shitloads of money. But money runs out.”

I was waiting for a friend that never came. Before I knew it, I was drunk and the Indian was propositioning me.

“You’re a good looking broad. I’ve got some work for you. Want to make a lot of money in one day? “  He put his purple shining mouth next to my ear. “I say, you’re a fine bitch. Wanna make some quick dough?”

The white, puffy Harvard man stirred his martini with his finger and stuck it in his mouth.  His eyes were dull and drifting.

“I can’t really say.” he said to himself. “what happened….. I was at Harvard. Not a great student, but not at the bottom.  It was different back then, not an issue. Kind of innocent. I was just a kid. I went to L.A. and people gave me a shit-load of money.”

“What do you do now?” I asked, because I wanted to know. I wanted to know how this white, puffy man could afford his Rolex, his alligator shoes, a martini bill in a five star hotel. He looked like an insurance agent.

“I sell insurance.” he answered emotionless. “Easy money.” He added.

The Indian took affront.

“Not as easy as porn, not as much fun” he challenged. “It’s fun, admit it.”

“It was a long time ago” said the Harvard man. “I was a kid.”

Theatrical Performance Work in Progress

Woman in an Adirondeck Chair:

The perfect day is agony. Not a ripple on the lake, although a soothing breeze moves trees, wind chimes, the abundant petunias. It’s a dry air today with plenty of sunshine, late afternoon in late summer, chores completed. No impending bills, social engagements, deadlines. The muffler on the old car has started to rattle but it isn’t a bother today, just a reminder of the wisdom in nursing an old car instead of being pressed with a car payment each month.

I can sit and simply indulge in the glory of the aging process, observe how each day knocks off another sliver of expectation, closes another door to a potentiality that would, in the end, become a burden, something that had to be ‘kept up’ like a rose garden or a hair highlight. For now, no such pain in the ass to contend with. Career in the shithole, mood in a hell hole, lips sucking on a beer. The monotony of lethargy. The consistency of hopelessness. The insight of mortality. The wisdom of nihilism.

And here it is. Perfection. The moan of locusts, the buzz of flies.  Lack of desire, motivation, schedule. A few bucks in the bank, enough to eat. A quiet interlude before the next humiliating defeat, disaster, freak-out, agitation, betrayal.  A ladybug crawls up my age-spotted claws. It dances circles on my wrist. I think about the awful movies at the film festival and the film makers and their make-up plastered wives.

“I just got into film-making. Was an actor, Search for Tomorrow. Put my wife through law school so now she makes the money, I take care of the kids and make films.”

Where are you from?

“New York, just outside, the island, takes fifteen minutes on the PATH train. People don’t realize it. Closer to Times Square than people who live on the Upper East Side.”

Gee, that’s great.

Wife in white pushes towards us. Huge leather purse with matching high-heeled sandals. Blonde, large face, large lips, lawyerly lids. Porn star pretty, in other words, sexy ugly. Eyes blue and dull. Neanderthal qualities. Silk scarf tied just so. Kisses film maker husband on ear. He’s shorter.

This memory of a third rate international film festival experience passes through my mind without a shift in mood. The hoards of film makers and their entourages, riding the PATH trains, making bad films, wearing white jeans and white high heeled sandals, carrying pillow sized leather purses with studded inlay. The world wouldn’t be twirling without their earnestness.  I am off the hook. Don’t need to make a bad film. Can take the day off. Can take this life off.

But first, there’s research to be done. Gin. Feeling poor, I grabbed a bottle of Gordon’s instead of Tanqueray, got it home and wanted to know if there was scientific difference. After two drinks, I have lost interest. Seems fine to me but I won’t have a third. A third drink is the teller. You can drink two of anything, -kool-aid and rum, grape juice and gin, vodka and urine. If you want three drinks, you don’t buy Gordon’s, you don’t buy fructose sweetened juices, you don’t piss in your cup. And you eat. Cheese, crackers, bread, scones, beans and rice. Eat and grow fat and drunk. Ten dollars more and you’ve got a professional buzz going. Three or four drinks. No matter. Who wants to count on a hot day? Cut costs in other ways, sleep in the street if you must.

I’ve got the Gordon’s and I’m stuck. Two drinks and I have to quit. What fun is half a party? Half a party concludes with a restless nap, time distortion, the waste of a day or evening. No experiences worthy of memory, no A’HA moments, no epiphanies. Just a half bottle of Gordon’s left on the counter with the remnants of a lime. An untidy, cheap mess of a half party. A cop-out. And tomorrow? A dull morning sans hangover, sans perkiness. All for the sake of a ten dollar savings.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I won’t be punished by the third drink of Gordon’s despite it being called a Middle Class gin.  But if you think I am going to revisit the Gordon’s website for more information on their distillation process, you haven’t had two drinks.

The Chinese definition of happiness is: Grandparents die, then parents die, children die last, but if the decrepit and uselessly aged refuse to kick-off, the rest of us are forced to overstay our welcome as well. It’s the Frozen Domino Effect. Not one domino falls, so no dominos fall, and the natural progression of life comes to a stand still, a stand-off, until the whole planet is a hospice, the entire globe an empty grave. Grandparents and parents will begin outliving their children in greater numbers because the children will kill themselves in frustration at being frozen in youth and middle age, unable to retire and rest unfettered in a shaded hammock because they’re forced to serve their tirelessly immortal ancestral tree.

The walking dead have their spells and bad days but continue, miraculously, to drive to the grocery store and comparison shop. Walking skeletons with wandering minds and milky eyes get a mind for meatloaf or an ice-cream sundae, and they’re up and off the couch. Refreshed with a surprise craving, off they go, back from the brink of a mini-stroke. Dead batteries revived, tough as cockroaches.  The human spirit, the will to live, in addition to a myriad of drugs, keep the clocks ticking after time has run out.

Age rage resembles road rage. Somebody is in the way. The life force wants to move forward in the fast lane and there’s a bottleneck. I am aware that even now, although my daughter loves me, there is a part of her that longs for my evaporation into heaven. It’s about the circle, the wheel of Fortune, the next thing. If there is a reverence in aging, there is a reverence in death, so get it over with.

A year ago, standing at the kitchen sink, I suddenly shit my pants without warning. A river of foul soaked my pants and puddled in my shoes. I was 56 and it was a gentle reminder from the Grim Reaper that I was headed for a soiled oblivion, none too soon. I am not saying that diapers are not an option or that a person cannot live a full and meaningful life with a full load in their pants, but as I waddled from the sink to the bathtub for a hose-down, I recognized that Mother Nature did not like to be fooled. Pills, diapers, soap, surgery.  Postponement of an idea whose time has come. Rectal mishap as crystal ball.  I took note. I await further instructions.

If Frank Sinatra and Paul Newman are dead, how bad can it be?

Walking in a cemetery the occupants silently suggest they’ve got nothing to worry about which balances out the nothingness of their non-existence. They don’t  even have to pay to have their lawn maintained. That’s unheard of, otherwise. You don’t get something for nothing, it’s the first life lesson. The first death lesson is, you get something for nothing. Lawn care. Security. Consistency. Freedom from all worry, disease, heartbreak, regret, insomnia, futility, broken electronics.

So, what keeps us here? Responsibility. Somebody loves us and needs our attention. Moreover, they’ll need to borrow money soon, or want to borrow the car. Being bored, they’ll need to visit. Being boring, they’ll need to call and chat about being bored.

A life affirming decision: let your cuticles go. Let them dry and flake and redden from dishwashing. Chew them and let them bleed.  Death by degree: the maintenance of manicures. Your hands, dirty and rough, meant to work and then tell the story of that work. Nail file, polish, clippers, buffer brush, tips, full-set, filler. Protective rubber gloves, hand cream. Each item a back step away from hands-on accomplishment. Look away from your hands, ignore them, let them live on their own and follow their lead.

Moment of Reckoning: The moment when you realize that all the people in charge are no smarter than you are, just better public speakers, more efficient test-takers. The moment you realize that all the people in Hollywood as no better looking than you are, just better at applying make-up. The moment you realize that you could be everything you think you could be if you could just shamelessly fake it like everybody else. The moment you realize you won’t fake it is the moment you’d better get used to being miserable.

Theatrical Performance in the Works

Person sitting on toilet:

Another time-killer is to post outrageously good bargains on Craig’s list.  A rental overlooking Central Park: $650 due to immediate transfer to Singapore.

A 30 foot sailboat: $1,200 due to desperate financial conditions. You are deluged with inquiries. String them along. Answer at your leisure. Give them more information about said offering. Balcony, four bedrooms, Jacuzzi. Tell them other people are interested and you need to give everybody a fair chance. And then, when you feel they’re solidly fantasizing about their new life overlooking Central Park or sailing to England, pull the plug abruptly but mercifully, so they cannot place blame on anyone but themselves and their obsessive selfishness.

It is even more fun to encourage their belief that although they are taking full advantage of your misfortune it is only because they want to help you out. In these instances, the prospective buyers will bend over backwards to make the sale easy and pleasant. “Gee, I am sorry about your situation and would be glad to help out. I need to live on Central Park West to be close to my ailing aunt. I would be happy to offer you $700 a month, even $800. I’d like you to know that I also have connections in Singapore that might lead you to great riches and true love. I was born in Singapore to great wealth, wealth that has since dissipated, but not without reward. There are favors owed me that I cannot utilize. These favors I offer you in exchange for your lovely apartment.”

“I am sure that docking a sailboat is an expense you do not wish to incur. May I offer you monies for storage until you have found the appropriate buyer? I can assure you that I am the right person for your boat, as I plan on offering classes in sailing to underprivileged children in the Bronx. I have been looking for a vessel for some time. Your sailboat would change the lives of hundred of children in short order.”

Always the bargain. A good deal brings out the worst in everybody. The worst in everybody is my avocation. The hungry ghosts set down in front of a turkey dinner under a locked plexi-glass serving plate. I hold the key between my teeth.

Person sititng at a Desk:

I handle life as though it were a filing cabinet with three or four drawers.  Inside the cabinet drawers there are folders. These folders are in alphabetical order and they contain information that begins with the corresponding letter affixed to the folder tab.  Any information that you come across in life that does not begin with a letter in the alphabet is better left alone.  If you can’t put a noun, verb or adjective to a bit of information, ignore it.  You make certain that you have more than enough folders- starting with the top drawer for “A” through “C”, etc. moving downward to the bottom drawer containing “XYZ” – Cross-referencing is always a safe bet – which is why it is critical to have a very large file cabinet and very wide folders. Color coding the folders comes in handy if you like to divide your life into categories such as Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Or, Personal, Business, Hobbies, Networking, Health, Finance, etc.

I have tried all manner of filing, coding, cross-referencing and have found that the simpler the file system, the simpler life becomes. Let’s say you’re trying to file an anxiety. Name the anxiety – “fear of homelessness” – and open your “finance file.”  Thumb through your finance folder, scanning bills, receipts, check-books, check-stubs, collection agency threats, cemetery plot deposit, your Will, your life insurance policy. It’s only paper. It means nothing, just as your fear of homelessness is meaningless and a worthless waste of your worry time. Close your filing cabinet. Go get an ice-cream.

I know you think I’m being ridiculous, but don’t knock it until you try it. What I am trying to say is this: It’s all paper. All of it, paper. File the paper, staple the paper, protect the paper and you won’t be homeless because there is help available and it is printed on paper.

What I am trying to say is, It isn’t real if it’s not on paper. It may seem real to you, as real as your nightmares, but they too are fantasy, misplaced emotion, a bad meal, a mosquito buzzing at your ear, a sweaty, dirty polyester sheet.

The visual effect of a filing cabinet is not to be underestimated. It signifies organization, control, support, clarification.  If you can file it, you can find it. Get me?

Woman on a Treadmill:

A baby boom baby, literally one in a million. I can’t get old. Nobody will let me. There are too many of us. If I am old, everybody my age is old, and nobody will admit to it. So at 57 I have to continue feeling youthful and being useful. Where is the pay-off? When can I give up, for fuck sake? What good is getting older if you don’t have an excuse for accomplishing nothing?  70 year old women running marathons in order to die in good shape or at least get fucked a few times beforehand. When can I enjoy middle age? How much longer do I have to endure this purgatory of “almost youngness?” Somebody has got to throw in the towel. Somebody has got to say, “enough! I don’t feel so good. I don’t feel so chipper. I don’t want to move to Oakland and get my degree in art therapy. I don’t want to lubricate myself to death’s door so that another aging baby boomer male can insert his half flaccid penis in my atrophied vagina.”  Let it GO, people! Grow up, grow old. The best days of your life are being taken away from you. The days of Wine and Roses, especially wine.  The days of minimal expectation.

We have Woodstock, what more do we want? How wonderful to sit back and rot, allow the young people to do the work and worship us as fat, silent Buddha’s – having been there and done that. They’ll never catch up anyway, why elbow our way into their scene, take their jobs, their restaurant seating, their girlfriends, and yes, their boyfriends, being that the new trend is younger man/older woman – again, the atrophied vagina is called to duty.

You argue. You say, go down yourself bitch!  I’m taking it to the finish line. I’m going out in style.

Why?

Style is a burden after 50. Style is a weakness, a time waster, a conformity, an extension of youthful  fantasy.

How do they Do it, continued.

They get up every morning. They walk to the bathroom and take a shit and begin to plaster make-up on their face. They hum a top 40 tune as they apply another layer of mascara. They step back from the mirror and take it in. In reality, they are repulsive, and yet they put on clothes and waddle to their cars with Blackberry in hand, unscathed by their mediocrity and unattractiveness.

How do they do it? They’ve read every self-help book and absorbed each trite and mind-numbing phrase. (You are worthy. You are special)  Or they have a credit card. They ARE special. They move through the world without fear. Fish out of water, they thrive on a mantra of denial. The self help books tell the truth. If you believe, so it shall be. They can waddle from Jaguar to social event and are accepted with open arms. They are no threat and they offer elegant cheese plate potential. The “Anyone’s” can throw crumbs as they eat the cheese. The crumbs turn to bread and the loaf, bread upon the water, is scattered and possibilities ensue. The great are comforted. Let the sheep have their boutique, gig, husband, travel experience, dream job. Sheep win the small, short game. Swarming like pilot fish around a whale, they comprise a global entourage and will not displace focus. The challenge of Greatness is to keep the sheep at bay, avoid the cheese plate trough and keep faith in the long haul.