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.