‘The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys’

I leave work sick and catch a bus home. Catching a bus isn’t easy when you live in the suburbs, you have to catch different buses and string them together. Then, you don’t get right where you need to be. But I don’t care. The bus is well-lit, clean, and the seats are like a movie theatre. I nod off, awake in 1996, London: napping on a double-decker tour bus, coming in and out of focus with an automated commentator overhead. My girlfriend is leaning on me, we’ve bought crisps at the convenience store and cans of pilsner, pretending we’re punk rock. I understand the film director Terry Gilliam now and his aesthetic on the English, using my first public restroom, taking in the intricate piping detail and canned music, everything wrapped so tight it feels like it could blow.

I wake a few years later, meeting up with the same friends in London as last time, a gay couple in their 50s named Rob and Paul. Rob is a gruff, hulking man who looks like an owl, with wily eyebrows and a nose full of broken blood vessels. Paul is an artist, has Parkinson’s, and likes drawing pictures of young men, naked. You could call them boys, I guess. It’s unusual but non-threatening and we don’t get worried about it. My step-dad John looks on in disgust implying we should do something, but there’s no seeming harm, it’s just weird.

Every day when Rob gets home we walk to the corner shop and buy a few cans of beer. He has a word with the clerk, who’s Pakistani. Rob could stock up in advance but instead, he just buys one or two at a time because he likes the ritual of it.

There’s no affection between Rob and Paul and they sleep in different rooms. In fact, Paul’s bed is child-sized and he climbs a ladder to get inside. He sleeps with a hat and his clothes on, contorted, and I worry he’ll see me watching him from the doorway.

The bath is broken. It’s a process that requires some coordination to get the hot water rigged up so we can wash, and we have to relocate houseplants and hanging laundry to get access to the bath, then it’s quick and unsatisfying, with stiff towels afterwards. Rob changes clothes for work every day but Paul’s been in the same outfit all week, toggling between two scarves, one striped, one solid.

We drive from London to the south of France in their VW bus, with their two Bassets. It’s the Bassets that brought Rob and Paul into our lives by way of my step-dad, who met them in the 1960s through a common love of the breed. Rob cleans their ears which they hate, and the Bassets look on with long, solemn eyes, just like Rob and Paul.

France looks surprisingly like Pennsylvania with rolling hills, bland vistas. We pull over so Mike and I can smoke, Paul can mix a gin and tonic, and Rob can boil an egg while the Bassets pee. When we engage the French, Rob and Paul use English in an aggressive manner, a battering ram, spouting commands at the waiter louder and louder, until they turn red. They are saying something more by way of speaking English and the tone they use, something that goes back a ways, I think. And the French pretend they don’t understand, which also says something. I use some French and get dirty looks for it.

By the time we reach the South, there are cactus and sudden views of the sea, sweeping vistas, winding turns. It’s late April but summer comes early to the South, and the sky is the same deep blue as the sea, cleansing, endless. Mike and I find a trail alongside a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean and just start running, shirtless and screaming with our hands thrown in the air, boundless, the other side of Africa, right there. We meet artists and mystics, a psychic with a lazy eye who sets me up with a girl from Toulouse, and there’s not enough time to take it all in.

Selfie from 1996

Selfie from 1996

I save a drawing Paul gave me, one of a teddy bear with a human phallus. The phallus is over-sized and the caption is something like, “Now that’s one stiff bear!” It’s a play on words I don’t understand. I save the drawing but realize it will be hard to explain if found, very hard to explain.

I stop in a Starbucks because it’s too long to walk home from the bus stop, and curl up at a table with some others, fixed on our machines. Nat King Cole is on, it’s Christmas. Paul is gone and Rob is somewhere in France now, calling my mom after too much Champagne, playing the same tapes we used to play when John was alive, drunken calls to relive those times we had, way back when. It’s all been said many times, many ways.

I step out for the walk home but my shoes aren’t the walking kind. There’s foam collecting in the streams off the road, left-behind things you never notice when you drive, thrown out of windows, unseen. Life is like this, not defined by what you do for work or for pleasure, but the sum of all things combined. Taking a walk when you don’t feel like it, going to a bar on a sick day, playing hooky so you can have a story to tell, how you made this day different from all the rest.

Blog post title from the album by Traffic, 1971 (written by Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi).

The ass from the manger scene

Source: © Guillaume Piolle Wikimedia Commons

Source: © Guillaume Piolle Wikimedia Commons

It’s the 15 year anniversary since our first date, and Dawn and I get into a spat over the gingerbread decorating event planned by the Girl Scout troop at a local school. I ask, what do we do while they’re decorating the gingerbread houses? Stand there and watch?

I’m one of about four men, surrounded by nine year old girls and their moms. There’s nowhere to stand without being in the way so I recede to the back. Across the room, three moms are demonstrating how to get the icing to come out of the conical shaped bag, and by the way they’re rolling and coaxing it in their hands, it makes me think of something else.

There’s an older girl dressed like an elf who looks like she’s from a Tolkien film, may actually be one: felt hat, felt shoes, unusually long fingers and nose though, early stages of Marfan syndrome. Another woman from the cast of Land of the Lost, Chaka, with a long sloping forehead and a mouthful of teeth, hopping between the tables. The organizer is wearing a necklace of Christmas lights that blink, getting more bags of wipes.

Kavya, one of Lily’s friends, is balling the icing in her hands and giving the others high 5’s while her mom sits in the corner trying to understand her smart phone. Others are licking the icing off their hands, which is good at flu season.

I think about walking home, but it’s roughly 10 miles and I don’t have a flashlight. People in the suburbs wouldn’t see you on the road. I could sit in the car, but I’d look like a dick. I send a text to my friend Be Glad You’re A Jew, then tell Dawn I’m going outside.

The wind has kicked up and we’re on a ridge overlooking the Cascades to the east, a full moon coming in and out of focus behind the clouds. The sound of something metallic clanking on the playground, ominous with the dead leaves rattling in the trees.

It is an exceptionally exceptional part of town, a development for the ultra rich, and this is their school. An expanse of land stretching from the track fields to the foothills. The clanking is a chain slapping against a pole, and the Girl Scout organizer appears at once from the shadows with her blinking necklace to confront me, a lone bearded man on the playground after dark with a flannel coat and upturned collar, surely touching himself or sneaking a flask, could be a terrorist. She has the strength of the Girl Scouts behind her.

It’s a lot quieter out here, even with the wind!

And we make small talk, she sniffs me out, breaks down some cardboard boxes and runs back inside to the children.

I warm the car and brood in the dark as the wind continues and they’re coming out of the school now, leaning sideways, reindeer antlers askew, clutching their bags of gingerbread houses and hot cocoas. I am a stone-faced leering golem imagining the car carried off by the wind, the elf girl in my rear view mirror with fingers like a sea creature, could be good or bad, a pooka, here or not here.

The girls get in and say dad, why did you come if you didn’t feel like it? And Dawn explains later that’s not what she was upset about, it was something else. We stay up until midnight, fall asleep on the couch, telling stories only we can remember.

Part-time blogger, full-time ass

I started re-reading Don DeLillo’s White Noise in October, inspired by connections to how our media was handling the Ebola crisis. Ha, ha: look at me! Blogging about Don DeLillo and Ebola! I have a third of the book to go still, and it’s December. Sometimes good writers are hard to read.

And now my work saga has become a form of online exhibitionism, a Möbius strip of fact and fiction. I sit in the office with the HR guy and he wants to hear my side of the story. This is dangerous, because I like telling stories, and I’ve thought about it at considerable length. I sat in a remote part of the building before, kneading my forehead and writing notes on just this topic.

I want to fictionalize the HR guy, to make his face unusually small in proportion to his long appendages. But it’s no good: the HR guy is my advocate, my friend, and good at his job.

I leave his office released, because that’s what the truth does for you when you accept it. I have a similar discussion with my boss and come to terms, and agree on the plan that’s imminent and my desire to meet expectations.

He says there are two sides of me: the side that wants to take it by the reigns and make it through, and the other side that gets mired in the muck of what’s going on inside my head.

There are many sides but like a Möbius strip, it’s all one surface that twists on itself. An ant could walk it indefinitely, an M.C. Escher print.

I start my side of the story, which begins in the spring. From a dramatic perspective, this was the Inciting Incident, when things start to turn. The process decomposition. I go into detail and the HR guy is taking notes, nodding. He sometimes stops me to go back. I take out documents for reference. I really find it interesting and on some level, I think he needs to also.

We pass each other in the hall, co-workers, and they ask How are you? They always ask and sometimes I lie, but they can tell and it’s a kind of game, a way of saying something when you don’t know what else to say.

Thirty years ago around this time I was turning 14 and started recording my thoughts on a mini tape recorder, in the bath tub. There was a lot going on then, a lot to capture. I played the tape back once and heard my dad’s voice come on at the end, recording on top of my voice and saying POMPOUS POMPOUS POMPOUS and my mom laughing, saying stop. And I knew they were right then and I couldn’t listen anymore; it was a passageway between self-awareness and self-consciousness.

The times I’m best at work I can believe in myself despite all the reasons I shouldn’t. We are many sides to us, contradictions, multitudes, mired in the muck of ourselves, why it matters and matters not.

 

The strength of strings

All the blood ran out of his face when my boss said they were putting me on a plan. It’s not the kind of plan you want to be put on. I became aware of my body language, uncrossed my arms, sat back, leaned forward, smiled.

I went back to my desk and pretended everything was normal, updated a deck and sent it with a cheery note, then cleared my calendar for the next couple hours, said I was sick, got in my vanpool van and headed south, not sure where I was going.

I stopped under a bridge in a congested area that leads to an industrial island and called my friend Steve, who had been through this before. We made plans for beer and advice after work.

And then I drove back to the parking garage at work and sat there in the dark, waiting to feel something but nothing came.

For a while now, I haven’t been happy at work. You can accept that to an extent, but it’s your line to draw for yourself. I said to my boss in my mid-year review, I don’t love it enough to be as good at it as I should be.

The guy who cuts my hair says it’s what I’ve wanted, and there’s something with my ego I have to understand and address, then move on.

So last night I made a southern variation on chicken pot pie, with bacon and frozen corn, and we finished the wine my friends brought for my birthday. Even with a slipped disc, I could still shake my rump to some Outkast while Dawn filmed it on her phone and the girls covered their faces in disgust.

I warmed the hot tub and after, we fell asleep watching a movie on the laptop in bed. I submitted two pieces to a writing contest, titled The World of Nameless Birds and How to Make Believe. My first attempts at publication, with a $1,000 prize. A year later, a better writer.

Post title inspired by Gene Clark song, The Strength of Strings, 1974.

 

Song of my 40s, still life

Workshop of Giuseppe Arcimboldo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Workshop of Giuseppe Arcimboldo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I can palm the cat’s head in my lap when she’s napping in the morning and it’s still dark — with just candles and Brian Eno playing, sometimes you can’t tell if it’s even on, that’s the thing about ambient music.

When life starts to feel like an illusion, with props you’ve put up inside a child’s shoebox house made out of paper trees and cotton ball stars. They will drag you out of it one day and you’ll see it this way, for real.

I started getting cold, that’s when it started. I used to take all cold showers when I was training to climb mountains: if you climb mountains you start to think this way, that you can control your tolerance to the cold, and somehow this makes sense. Like breaking in a new pair of hiking boots by walking all over the city in them with no socks, to toughen my feet.

I treated my body like a dog and I was an unkind master. I forced myself to do things in Yoga you can’t really force, I bent myself out of shape like a wire clothes hanger. Then one day, I lost my nerve. The parallel from climbing applies to life, the way we do things, why we climb.

When I climbed my first mountain, I couldn’t imagine failing, it wasn’t in the plan. It’s the only thing that got me to the top, my will. When you start looking down, start thinking about falling, that’s when it starts.

I died with Styx in my head, Come sail away with me, the exuberance in the reprise and the ancient wailing almost Wagnerian in scale, climbing higher through the clouds and the synthesizers, the 1970s.

Now, the sound of a windstorm outside, hoping the power doesn’t go out, the dog smacking her lips, sighing, Middle-aged.

I started losing weight, but it was like my body was caving in on itself, collapsing. And I played The Sugarcubes for my daughter not because I like Björk but so she can hear the power of her, all the beauty and imagination in her voice, all she could be, too.

And the dog sleeps sideways, might as well be dead she looks so serene. She stretches out and settles in, and the timer on the lamp downstairs clicks off. It’s dark most hours of the day. And I must write to remember, as I scribble in the dark. I must write to live while I can I will, this way of stretching out when we feel like we’re collapsing. To make ourselves feel more real by opening the lid on our shoebox house and inviting others to look inside.

This post dedicated to Michelle Green and her blog contest on midlife crisis…check it out, you might win a kick-ass mug and a postcard from Minneapolis.

So what about the mid-life crisis?

Charlotte and I decide to walk to the lake. The lake is about 10 minutes away, she’s 7, and it’s the first time we’ve walked there together, just the two of us. She’s balancing along a stone wall about four feet above grade, and I’m trying hard to be with her, but I’m at work. I’m also thinking I’ve turned into a model from a Ralph Lauren catalog, it doesn’t feel real or right, and I can’t tell if it’s because of the job and lifestyle we have, or just life in general.

We get to the lake and she wants to walk out on the dock, where we see some ducks in the water and I explain how you can tell the difference between the boy ducks and girl ducks. She chips a piece of ice off the edge, throws it in the water, and they rush in and fight over it like it’s food.

Charlotte’s still talking about it on the way home, and I’m still telling myself to stop thinking about work.

On Sunday, it’s a repeat with my other daughter, Lily. She gives a play-by-play of the latest Disney movie, really follows the architecture of the story by every plot point. I take a picture of her with the dog, under a tree that’s turned red.

We meet at a Park & Ride and drive a few hours away with another couple (no kids), to stay at a hotel that’s rumored haunted, and get drunk. They have a salt water soaking tub there but it’s so windy, our socks get blown in the water and it’s a bitch getting out, getting dressed. I can’t find my glasses in the brush and have to use the flashlight on my phone, which I’ve turned off, so I can disconnect.

The hotel is on several acres with bars, a brewery, distillery, winery, miniature golf course, glass-blowing hut, cigar-smoking shed, organic gardens…an adult’s amusement park. Each bar is playing the same programmed music and we re-enter the playlist as we enter different bars. Chris waves his phone at the ceiling to identify the songs.

I pack the girls’ overnight bags, which is unusual and requires more guidance from Dawn than you would think. I almost have to write it down. I put their clothes in separate plastic bags and write their names on them, and a plastic Easter egg for each of them, with a note inside telling them how much I love them, with small sketches.

I don’t know that they’ll notice the eggs but it’s better not to say anything. When I meet them at the bus the next day, it’s the first thing Charlotte talks about. She’s not disappointed it’s just a note, with no money or candy. She seems to really connect with me then, and it means something to her.

The mid-life crisis is hard to talk about or understand. Names are deceiving. To wish for the days to pass quickly so you can get to the end feels wrong to me. The mid-life crisis is a mid-life awareness, and that’s the problem right now.

 

The 1,000th time

A part of me died that day in the conference room when I botched it with the process decomposition. I had a plan going in, aligned on it with my business owner, and the plan was to plot the as-is process that was already documented and go through that phase by phase, drawing out which parts needed further definition. That made sense to me, why reinvent the wheel?

I got it all plotted and posted and we started, but then decided we should just scrap it and start from scratch. It’s a small conference room, about the size of a mini-van with no windows, just a white board and a large mural with Accomplishments written at the top, but blank, because we were too busy to put anything up there.

I never really did process decomposition before. Whenever I get into Visio my soul wilts and I feel sorry for myself, for how far I’ve strayed from the person I imagined, now manipulating boxes and arrows and swim lanes. Because process is important but it makes me sick and I want to go all Punk on it, want to throw my fists down and yell FUCK FUCK FUCK.

I never did process decomposition but had it on my Partner Development Plan (PDP) because I knew it’s an important part of being a project manager; process often comes up. People expect you to be that way.

So I said fine, let’s just start from scratch. It was me, the business owner, his boss, and our consultant. The consultant just sat there and watched as the two other guys riffed off each other and I tried to keep up with them with my Post-it notes and annotations, but quickly they realized I wasn’t capturing it in a cogent fashion (it looked like spaghetti with all the squiggly lines and arrows), and the mood changed in the room. They got curt and the big guy (my business owner) turned red, started raising his voice.

I was shaking and starting to stutter and this is where a gap opened inside me, some new voice bloomed in my head and mumbled something dark, something about running away from everyone and dying alone, in the woods. That voice sometimes peeps at me in the morning drive in, when I consider what would happen if we got into an accident and I’d have a legitimate reason to miss work a few days.

A couple hours later it was over and I rolled up the plotter paper and preserved the Post-it notes from falling off, out of sequence. We all looked at one another like we’d seen each other’s privates and felt weirded-out by it. More, they’d seen mine.

I got back to my desk and cracked open Visio, shaking, and played with the orientations to produce something viable. I ran back and forth between my computer and the printer and put copies on their chair with a handwritten Post-it asking for feedback, signed Bill.

There were many discussions after this: me briefing my boss, my boss circling back with them to play damage control, it goes on and on. It triggered a kind of unraveling to where I felt like a political figure.

That was April. By late August, I was transitioning off the project and we had more than 100 process documents broken into separate files with a careful taxonomy and file naming convention. This is like the end of the film, Raiders of the Lost Ark: I post the files on a SharePoint site, copy them to a thumb-drive, hand them off to the consultant to upload onto their share-drive, and the crate is buried in a dark warehouse, FADE OUT.

Brandenburg in F-ing Flat

My boss and I have an 8 o’clock stand-up meeting every day. The stand-up is meant as a quick, informal check-in on your progress. What you got done yesterday, your priorities for today. The thought is if you’re standing, it shouldn’t go too long — about 15 minutes. We normally sit, and they last 30.

My boss is the best one I’ve ever had, maybe. Yesterday he made some cutting remarks about my performance though, which is hard to hear because it’s true.

So I went back to my computer to put everything back together. I shuffled papers and moved things around, and drew wild sketches. I answered some emails and drafted the weekly status report. Then I went to the doctor and got my back checked, because I couldn’t put my socks on or dry myself properly, or do things in the bathroom normal people do without bad backs.

I let the dog out and there was a new, wet stain on the rug. The cat jumped on my lap and made those retching movements, almost puked on me, but hit the rug instead. Then, I stepped on shit in my socks on the way to the bathroom and had to put on another pair again.

I got home from the doctor’s and turned the computer back on, answered emails, drew wild sketches. I took a long walk at sunset to clear my head and figure things out, but didn’t. I worked until 6:30, had trouble sleeping, got up at 4:30 and answered my first email at 4:52 AM.

I’m conflicted about taking work home with me: conflicted, meaning I don’t do it as a rule, on principle, but then one day you realize you’re the only person with that rule, and you have to decide what’s most important.

The problem with work for us in America is we over-identify with it and now, with technology, there are no borders between work and home. It’s another way of being here but not being present, and you have to consider how much of yourself you’ll let it take. Which is true with just about everything.

 

Standing under the shoulders of giants

A week spent with data, inside Excel: VLOOKUPS, pivot tables, four rewrites of a simple proposal drawn up for review by one guy, a 15 minute meeting. A five page deck with about 10 pages in the appendix. The appendix, which just arrived one day as a great idea in corporate presentations, like “Don’t worry we DID think of everything, we’re just not going to bug you with it unless you need to go there. We don’t want to waste your time.”

And I rework it with a few minutes of feedback and wait for more feedback, how my boss thinks her boss will react to it as a kind of filter for her boss, for the big moment.

I have to draw it out on paper first, how the presentation will look. I get into PowerPoint and my creativity puckers up as soon as I start hitting commands. They switch the versions so often and move things around, I can’t keep up. It’s all chicanery in PowerPoint, drawing boxes and lines — not too much detail, not too little, not too many words, easy on the bullets, keep the font size the same, stick to the style guide.

I don’t know how to do VLOOKUPS and I don’t want to learn. I go to the Internet and watch videos. I call a guy who can do it and he comes over and asks, do I just want him to do it or do I want to learn and I lie and say, oh show me, to honor him, to respect his time. But I don’t have time to learn and don’t want this knowledge, this data handling.

I think about all the data these days and all the businesses designed to help people use it, and it leaves me cold. I look out at the trees now as the sky is falling and think, would I walk up to that tree and consider its data?

I was asked to rework the data many times. It’s a list of about 652 records but I’m only interested in about a hundred of them, and of that population I need to slice it about 10 different ways, but it’s all for estimating purposes, for a 15 minute conversation, and not a lot of money on the line — maybe as much spent in a few hours thinking about it as the event itself, but who’s counting?

In the mornings I tinker with a poem or two, from my walks to the lake this weekend, when I let myself open up to the world around me and forget about the data, the week. You can’t rush the poems either: they require some careful handling, some commands, some listening.

The poem is about a lending library on a dead end road that leads to the lake. I saw my reflection in the glass of the street-side box, mounted on a post, that has books inside you can just pick up and take home, leave another book in its place.

And I thought what small things, books, how you can fit so many inside such a little space, and how much of themselves the writers put in there, possibly all of themselves, and how worlds collapse inside one another, the real ones we delude ourselves with and the made-up ones we imagine, sometimes more real.

And I couldn’t write for a couple weeks now because of the brain damage at work, even started developing pimples and picking the skin around my cuticles, which is a sign I’m spilling out, biting myself like a dog.

I went to a show last night in the rain across town, had to take the highway, squinting and hesitating and realizing my nerves are slowing down. Went to the show alone because I needed some insular trip to disappear inside.

And the first band was Low, from Duluth. They’ve been around maybe 20 years and never made it. They set up their equipment and break everything down, themselves. And I watch the singer gyrate with his guitar, the jerky, snake-like motions he makes with his arms and neck, and it’s so real it gives me the chills. And a friend of mine argues, who would you rather be, REM or Low? And I say, it depends.

Secretary’s Day

I was sleeping with a girl from the Costume Department. They thought she was gay, they thought I was gay, and we played along with it — Ha, ha, “We’re gay!” They thought she was gay because she’d started going out with women, and they assumed I was too, because most straight guys don’t work at theaters or take jobs as secretaries.

It was my first real job coming out of school. A real job, because it had an annual salary, which I assumed meant more pay. They even presented me with an offer letter, with my name typed right there in the corner and a letterhead on top.

The job was really two jobs, “wearing many hats,” which is what you do in theater. I was part office manager, part company manager, which meant I had to meet the actors at the bus station, drive them to their hotel, get them set up, where to buy alcohol on a Sunday.

But basically, the job was a secretary. And everyone hated the woman I worked for, who was recently divorced, and had one of those hyphen-last names which sounded like “break your balls” if you said it wrong.

She was the daughter of a retired executive who ran a company selling chemicals to the Defense Department, to the government. They were Texans, good stock. She needed something to do though, so the theater became her hobby. And everyone talked about her before she came into the office and after she left, and while she was there.

I came to like her in a way that was like the Patty Hearst thing, where you fall in love with the villain who’s abducted you. I felt sorry for her and the fact they hated her, what they said: how she was trying to look artsy with her hats and scarves, but looked like an old witch, how the lines in her face resembled the creases in a rotten apple.

In the afternoon the mail came and that was one of my things to do, to sort it into different slots. That’s when Lisa came by from the Costume Department, and we’d exchange faces. She had the start of a mustache but it didn’t matter because her eyes were mad like a panther’s and she had a mole by her mouth that smacked of sex.

We went so far as to visit a gay bar in a town called New Hope on one of our days off. It was one of those gay bars where all heads turn when you walk in and you realize you’ve made a bad choice and can’t do anything about it.

But there was an older guy by himself in the corner who gestured sit down, and so we did to try to blend in. He really just needed someone to hear his story: how he worked for years with Jim Henson making puppets, even worked on the set of Fraggle Rock, first season. He pulled out a picture from his wallet with some muppets on it and pointed to an ostrich, “That’s the guy I was with, right there.”

Part of the appeal with Lisa was an ego thing, that I could be man enough to win her back to the world of men. She wrote plays and was researching the life of another woman who wrote plays about women who suffered really bad premenstrual syndrome, so bad it drove them to commit wild acts of violence, and how this was part of a male conspiracy to keep women down, the kind of thing you don’t normally hear about.

It ended one day over lunch at a small restaurant near work, when she accidentally poured salt into her coffee thinking it was sugar and I laughed, because it was a funny thing to do, and she just snapped and said FUCK YOU BILL PEARSE I HATE YOU BILL PEARSE, and all the other tables looked up.

I said OK, we’re done.

When the mail came later she said I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it — and I said I’m sorry, I did. And that was that, she went back to women.

My boss started having me heat up her lunch and bring it to her, and that’s when I learned the trick about sprinkling water on leftover pasta before you heat it, but not so much it dilutes the sauce.

On opening nights, we got comp tickets to bring a friend to the show, and I started inviting my friend Dan, in keeping with the gay theme.

Dan was about the most ungay man you could imagine, which made it even better. He had heavy metal hair — not the pretty kind of hair-sprayed hair, but the real heavy metal hair that goes so long and unruly it takes on its own identity, the way ivy can take over a yard.

I wore Dan around like a used sweater, with holes, a way of saying Fuck You to the others at work, because that’s what Dan’s hair seemed to be saying, in our small town.

When we cast a new show it was my job to coordinate pickup with the actors and the most well-known was one of Alan Arkin’s sons. He had two kids and they both acted, and this one looked just like a younger Alan Arkin, just not as interesting.

The play was some romantic comedy thing my boss thought would go over well with our demographic (older women with a lot of money wanting a good time out, nothing too edgy).

It was just Alan Arkin’s son and a woman, a small cast, because we didn’t have a lot of money to pay the actors. I got Alan’s son to his hotel and went back for the woman, who wound up being beautiful, and a bit out of sorts getting into my car.

She was from New York and sounded interested in the small town character our town lacked. I gestured to the hospital where I was born, the county jail, the middle school (which was grades four through six, I think), the fairgrounds where I worked that summer selling Pepsi out of a large Pepsi can, made about a thousand dollars in cash, probably spent it all on Izod shirts and Dungeons & Dragon figures — ha, ha!

I gave the theater a few days notice when I quit, after I did the math and calculated how much I was making by the hour, and talked to a temp agency that said they could pay more, with a wide variety of assignments like flagging for construction crews, or office jobs where I could apply my typing skills, which were exceptional for a man.

They had a different name for Secretary’s Day that was trumped-up, like Administrative Professionals Day, and I didn’t intend to quit on that day, but I did. They warned it would look bad on my resumé, that I left so soon — but I didn’t even have a resumé, and wasn’t worried.