Tag Archives: theater

22. “What We Talk about when We Talk about Love”

The summer of 1988 was a terrible one for me.  I worked two jobs, one for Amway, where I was instructed to give minute to minute briefs about what my bosses were doing,  and one working as a telemarketer selling tickets to Broadway shows.  I got to see Broadway shows for free, which is why I took such an annoying, humiliating job.  Once I voiced my opinion to  a co-worker.  “People hate us.  We call their homes, interrupting whatever they’re doing, trying to sell them something they don’t need.”  She looked at me as though I had had a lobotomy.  Obviously, you can’t have too much self awareness to be a telemarketer.

Being a pesky telemarketer was just as bad as my previous job as one of those annoying people who spray perfume on you in Bloomingdale’s.  They dressed me as “Nina Ricci” in a long floral dress that was shapeless, so they actually found a rope and tied it around my waist.  I was wearing too much make-up.  They taught me the correct pronounciation of “Lair du temps” (lair do tom) and sent me to the escalators to spray people like a skunk.  Once they had me sell soap twinkies and whiskey-smelling mouthwash.  I hawked them by hollering,”Wash your kids’ mouths out with soap twinkies!”

“Want to pretend to be drunk at work?  Use our whiskey-smelling mouthwash!”

I was taken off the floor and reprimanded.

I was a terrible Willy Loman.  I was not a positive person, but a cynic.  Once I called a man to sell him tickets and he said, “I’m inside my wife.”  Then why are you answering the phone?  I had a couple of regular lonely sad customers who told me to call again and again, just to chat.  One woman wanted to meet up in Central Park.

The supervisor woman wore sundresses and acted like a drill sargent.  She screamed at us constantly.  “You’re a playwright, huh?  Well you have to sell yourself to be a playwright, and I don’t think you have it in you!”  When I left the wiry boss with a mustache gave me his number and invited me out to dinner.

Raymond Carver’s ” What We Talk About When We Talk about Love”  saved me.  I was down and out, and his tales of broken down poor people gave me comfort.  I had no time to eat a proper dinner between jobs,  so at ten o’clock p.m every night I took the subway and walked home, often in the pouring rain without an umbrella, and ate a Dove Bar for dinner.

Alison, of the couple we met in Paris, had invited me to come live with her in her studio apartment on the Upper East Side.  I slept on a mattress on the floor.  The apartment was on the ground floor with bars over the windows so there was no air conditioner.  Either it was raining or it was 100 degrees that summer.

Alison kept trying to tell me that success in school and an Ivy League education did not determine your success in the job market.  I knew that.  I had read Mary McCarthy’s The Group.

Alison first recommended that I join a temp agency for girls with Ivy League educations.  On the first day of a new job, my new boss called me from his car.

“You’re a @#$% temp? Oh @#$!”  He was screaming bloody murder at me, cursing me out and complaining about everything.  I lasted one day at that job, so the agency sent me to Amway.  I knew nothing about Amway, so I didn’t realize it was a kind of Christian Ponzi Scheme.  All I knew was that I had to call the vendors and get them to submit photos of their cheap, ugly merchandise for the catalogue.  One of the bosses there was a screamer, a woman who screamed at the male co-worker who was nice to me.

At lunch, I would sit in the bosses’ comfortable chair and order pizza.  It was so hot that the delivery man stunk up the whole office when he came in the door with the worst body odor I had ever smelled.

Alison introduced me to her friend Tim, who worked in the theater world.  He told me that that there was a job opening at Playwright’s Horizons theater, selling concessions.  So I applied, mentioning Tim’s name and that I had a master’s degree in playwriting from Brown University.  When I told Alison that I had used Tim’s name, she flew into a rage.  A lot of people were raging at me that summer.

“You don’t know how hard it is to make connections in theater in this city!” She screamed.  “Tim has cultivated his contacts for years.  He didn’t give you permission to use his name!  He doesn’t even know you!”
She wouldn’t let up.  Obviously the real reason she was upset is that she was tired of me living there.  Especially since I never bothered to clean but just watched her and commented on what a drag it was for her to have to clean on the weekend.

To shut her up, I told her I would write a letter to Playwright’s Horizons withdrawing my application.  She regarded me with stony silence until she suggested that I move back in with my mother until it was time for me to move to Seattle to earn my Ph.d.

When I got home, I saw my mother rinsing out my suitcase with a hose. “I wasn’t going to tell you this,” she said, “But your suitcase was filled with cockroaches and cockroach eggs.”  Oh, God, all the time I had been sleeping on the mattress on the floor, cockroaches had probably been crawling over me.


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11. The Viscount of Wales

When I was a sophmore at College, my play “Whatever Happened to Sigurd Hoyer?” won best play.  Peter, a short Filipino boy with a round face, volunteered to direct it.  He would take me to a dive bar and play “Smoke Blows in Your Eyes.”  While we were stapling posters on bulletin boards, I began to sing it.

“They asked me how I knew/My true love was true/I of course replied/something deep inside/cannot be denied.”

Why are you singing that song?”  He asked, excitedly.  I didn’t know, but it meant a lot to him, and soon it became clear that he was more interested in me than my play.  He thought I was singing that song about him, when in reality I was singing it because he constantly played it on the jukebox.  He professed his love to me, and broke up with his long-time girlfriend.  I didn’t want him screwing up my play, so I played along.  He was my first mercy fuck.

He was a generous lover, and he would have iced lemon water at the ready after lovemaking.  People were shocked that I was going out with him.

One of his roommate’s girlfriends walked around the apartment naked as if this was perfectly normal.  I made it clear that I would not be doing that.

“I don’t know if I should be telling you this, ” he said, “but you know how you’re the only girl in our playwriting class?  Do you know why all the guys sat across from you?  Because we were all looking at your crotch whenever you crossed your legs when you wore skirts.”  No wonder that when I approached these guys and tried to talk to them at parties, they couldn’t make eye contact and ran away.  I was horrified and flattered.  I was a feminist, and the best playwright and most articulate person in the class, but to the guys all that mattered was my crotch.  Still, there was something sexy about it.

I met Hayden, a tall handsome boy with curly black hair, deep set eyes, and a British accent at Risley Hall one night at dinner around the circular table.  We were rubbing spoons and putting them on our faces, and Hayden began flirting with me.  He later said he had been imagining spoons stuck to my nipples.

I cast him as the lead in my play.  He played Nicky, the dejected writer who papered his walls with New Yorker rejections and served twinkies for dinner  to his daughter, Marlene.

One night I had the flu very badly.  Hayden came into my room and said, “Get up!  Get out of bed!”  He tore off the covers, revealing my bare legs, which he stroked.  “The whole dorm is doing mushrooms!”  I pulled up the covers.

“I have the flu, ”  I said wearily, “and I don’t want to do mushrooms.”

“C’mon, it will be the most amazing night of your life!”  Finally, he convinced me. “They will make you feel sick to your stomach at first,” Hayden explained, “But then you will be flying high!”

I took the mushrooms with Hayden.  First we went to my neighbor’s room and tried to talk her down from a bad trip about her love for her sister.  She was a beautiful, stunning girl who played the violin.  Hayden and I were staring at the ceiling.  Soon we were cocooning in his sleeping bag together.  “You don’t really love Peter.  I want you to break up with him and go out with me.”

A drug trip is never a good start to a relationship.

Then I went to Carthage in my brain, an ancient city known for hedonism.  Next I became every work of art, twisting my body into cubism and surrealism.

When I awoke, my ass was exposed to Hayden’s roommate and his friend, and it was the topic of discussion.  I kept trying to hike up the sleeping bag but it was hopelessly twisted.  And, say what you will about hallucinegens, but my flu was completely gone.

I took Peter into the basement where the piano rooms were and we sat on the floor of one of the rooms.  I broke the news to him.  He started crying and then ran out of the room, with me yelling, “I’m sorry!”

Peter hardly ever showed up for rehearsals, and when he did he was shaking and wouldn’t look at anyone.  This was a disaster.  I began directing the play by myself.

My father called to say he was marrying his mistress, his secretary, but I told him I couldn’t go to the wedding because that was the weekend the play opened, which was true.  My sister showed up, wearing all black, including a top hat.  When my sister brought her flower bouquet home to my mother’s house, my mother began to cry and took to bed.

Meanwhile,  a four hundred pound lesbian and her two hundred pound girlfriend, who felt they ran Risley hall and monitored all gossip, took me aside to talk about Hayden.

“Have you ever looked in Hayden’s closet?”  The four hundred pound lesbian asked.

“No, ” I replied.

“Well have a look.  He looks disheveled and never has any money on him, but he has all designer suits and he’s filthy rich.  And, ” she said seriously, “He’s the Viscount of Wales.”

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