Sunday, March 20, 2011
Right. So, here's the deal. This is my one-man show, "William and the Tradesmen." Some of you already know about it, because I bang on about it periodically. I did it last year at La Mama, and the previous year at Ars Nova and the Robert Moss Theater in New York. It's been a labor of love.
Now I've been offered an opportunity to do it again, very soon: April 28th through May 1st at the Drilling Company Theater, 78th and Broadway. It will be produced by Project: Theater, a local company run by my friend and colleague Joe Jung. And I've got a great new director, fantastically talented artist and friend, Craig Wroe.
I could tell you all about "William and the Tradesmen." I could give you the score on it. I could tell you that I'm thrilled to be given the chance to do it again, not just because it will get me out of the house and doing what I love, but because every time the show gets done, it gets done better and better. I could tell you it's not like too many one-person shows that I've ever seen. I could tell you I hope that's a good thing.
I could tell you that I'm terrified it's too soon to do it, what with the foot not even in the physical therapy stages of this prolonged recovery. (All those who don't know yet about my foot, scroll down just an inch or two.) I could tell you that I'm worried I'll start out all gung-ho, and then end up crying because my foot wasn't quite ready to embark on the rigors of rehearsals and self-production.
Instead I won't be telling you any of that. I am just going to say, watch this, my friends, and put your hands together and pray:
Monday, March 14, 2011
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
I'm reaching the point in the recovery and treatment of my foot when stuff I used to be scared of, such as a random burglar breaking down my door and shooting me in the head with a shotgun, is of little horror to me now. Dramatic, I realize. It might just be because today I'm facing not one but two needles - one of which will be inserted directly into my already swollen purple toe - with no assurance that any of the needles, scalpels, drills, pokes, prods, or screws I've been treated or threatened with will fix my foot and allow me to walk again. Surely the fact that I've been dealing with a hole in the center of my first metatarsophalangeal joint for almost a year contributes to the rising drama of my thought patterns.
There are other former horrors: Pack of wolves. Gas poisoning. Crushed by blue whale. Whatever makes the papers is now cool by me.
Antidotes to this syndrome: it's entirely possible that the worst bit is nearly over. This could be the last phase of my torture. Today they're going to take my blood (traditional arm-hole fashion), draw out the platelets and the plasma, (throwing away the red and white blood cells - I wonder what becomes of them), and shoot said platelet-rich plasma into the affected area of my toe, hoping it will eventually spackle over the hole. Then another week of swelling and bedrest, and crutches to get to the bathroom.
Then, if all goes as planned, I will finally begin my rehabilitation. My toe, unmoved these five weeks since surgery, will finally touch treadmill. This will be followed by other kinds of physical therapy that might very well see me bending my big toe, like I used to do in days of yore. I might be allowed to get rid of the medical velcro sandal I've been enslaved in and go back to the orthotically engineered sneakers I had made last summer.
Slowly, slowly, I might just work up enough strength to start to wearing regular shoes and walk again without crutch, cane or swearing.
Two months from now I will have a special MRI called "T2 Mapping," which will determine whether or not there is any cartilage-like substance growing in my joint as a result of this marvelous and not at all scary injection. If the mapping gives a thumbs up - then I will get the toe-ahead. Rehab will continue, and maybe, just maybe I'll be alright forever. Maybe I'll be alright for ten years and have serious problems again. Maybe I'll be alright for three years, then have serious problems again. Maybe I won't be alright at all.
At which point I have two choices - 1) let them open me up again in two places - taking cartilage from my knee and plugging it into my toe. 2) let them open me up in one place again - the toe - and screw the joint shut permanently, so that it never moves again. Apparently people who've had this done have gone on to run marathons. They just can't ever dance ballet or put on cowboy boots. But the fusion is known as a "salvage procedure," to be employed only when there is nothing else that can be done to save the joint. It also requires another two- to three-month recovery period.
Oops, I've descended into bleakness again. But at least now all the facts are out there, in print. Here's hoping that both Mr. and Mrs. Needle are wearing big bright smiley faces and that they bring my big toe a big root-beer lollipop, all the while singing "Everything's alright, yes, everything's fine..." a la Jesus Christ Superstar.
Wait. Maybe not that song. Things didn't exactly turn out too healthy for the guy in that story.
Okay, how about the needles sing any song besides "Put on a Happy Face."
As long as the doctor stays absolutely quiet.
Saturday, March 5, 2011
I've moved eighteen times in the past twelve years. I've moved four times in the seven years I've been in New York. I resolved when I reached the six-month mark in my new apartment, shortly after my foot operation, that I would NOT be moving again. Even if this place was far from perfect, I was not about to bankrupt myself once more, looking for and moving to another inadequate New York apartment, while putting undue wear and tear on a toe that's already on the verge of being decommissioned for the rest of its life. I must deal with the imperfections. This place has most of what I want. An elevator. Decent space. Low rent. Lots of light.
Then, last night, I saw a fly. A big one. And I considered moving again.
Bear with me. I know this doesn't sound like a big deal. But when I first moved to this place last August, I was besieged by flies. I dreaded coming home.
It's not like I'd never seen flies before. My dad used to chase them around our house with his swatter when I was a kid. But I'd never had flies in a New York apartment before, and I'd never seen so many in one small place. I'd had roaches, sure, and the occasional millipede. Mice, certainly. More than I care to mention. None of those were pleasant, all of them were disgusting - but, still, none of them were flies: those annoying, buzzing, disease-ridden animals, impossible to kill, that swoop back and forth across your ears when you're sleeping, making you think that space aliens are trying to eat your head. And no one's ever made a horror movie called "The Mouse."
"Why the hell do I have flies?" I thought, when the problem first presented itself. (Actually, knowing me, I'm sure I said it out loud.) I'd spent the previous two years learning to be clean. I hauled garbage out regularly. I didn't have dusty vents, as far as I could tell. Eventually I noticed that one of my windows had a screen that was sticking out of the frame. It had been shoved in there with one corner hanging off, leaving a big gap through which anyone or anything could enter. I couldn't fix it myself because the remnants of a sawed off window-guard were blocking the grooves. I followed the natural urban progression from asking to harassing to begging my super to get this fixed. To this day, he has not.
So I learned to keep the windows shut for most of the summer and fall, until my apartment resembled a catacomb. It was stifling, depressing, hot. But I guess I preferred the pall of death over the sight of flies ... in the bathroom, kitchen, you name it.
I still wanted to know - why were there all these flies right outside my window? Was there something about my apartment that attracted them?
I learned from the exterminator who eventually came that everybody in the building had them. He had a couple of theories. One: that it could be the dumpster, often overflowing with trash, sitting on the street four floors below me. "Or, you know, it could be from the dog poop on the sidewalk," he said. At first I laughed. But then I realized this theory was probably closest to the truth. I'd never lived in a neighborhood so vandalized by dog feces in my life - not since leaving South Philadelphia. Navigating the minefield of turds that cover the block between Franklin and Bedford Avenues is the kind of brutalizing experience that makes one doubt the basic goodness of humankind. It also makes one whisper a whole string of cynical, psychologically debilitating phrases with every step, like: "What the fuck?" "Oh come on!" "You fucking retards!" "You idiots should NOT own animals!" "God, what's WRONG with you retards?" and "I need a vacation. Oh GOD, I need a vacation. I need a va- Oh Jesus - really?? diarrhea??" And to utter such phrases repeatedly to yourself every time you make your way to and from your home is a disquieting and surely unhealthy way to spend so much of your time.
It reinforces the sinking feeling I've come to know that New York City is mired in the Dark Ages, like no other city in the developed world. It is 2011 and yet people either don't know or don't care that animal waste attracts disease. It's a medieval city in which the rich have their fiefdoms on which the poor and the ignorant sweat – either becasue they know no other life, or because they’ve convinced themselves, like I have, that New York is “where it’s at.” Even the medieval serfs weren’t so naïve. None of them believed where they were was where it was at. They just couldn't figure a way to get off of it.
There is, perhaps, more upward mobility now than there was nine hundred years ago. But because I'm too stubborn or stupid or unskilled to get a real job, I consign myself to living among the villeins and the plowmen, folks who leave their oxen, dog and human droppings everywhere just to show the king what they think of their shitty jobs. It’s also, I gather, a message to the local police force, stationed permanently at Franklin and President, out there every night with their lights flashing.
Winter was much easier to take on the feudal moor. The flies went away and so did the kids who like to party in the street, blasting Jamaican hip-hop from their cars. Winter lasted a long time, as it always does in New York. But now that an enormous, possibly pregnant fly has presaged an end to my peace, my mind turns not just toward questions like "When will I be able to walk and work again," but also,"Do I have it in me to move house again?"
But I can’t move again. It’s a physical impossibility. It would also be one more step toward financial disaster, and I’ve already taken so many steps in that direction. Instead of spending all this time bemoaning the conditions that promote infestation and ill feeling in my home, perhaps I should spend it learning a skill that might allow me to save up enough money to move when the time is right. I saw three infomercials this afternoon offering time-tested programs on how to “earn money from home! Up to 200,000 dollars a month.” The TV I recently bought must already be paying for itself – because I’m actually starting to take these offers seriously. Let's face it, they sound better than all the other money-making ideas I’ve been making lists of lately, including: “Write an episode of The Simpsons,” and “Become a German tutor.”
Thursday, March 3, 2011
I'm not sure if anyone in the world has read Part One or Part Two of this "story" (or this “essay/memoir/creative nonfiction” - I never know what to call it), but here is the piece of scribbled genius that's been bating the breath of many an imaginary friend for two whole weeks: PART THREE of "Poster Child," the continuing saga of a naive and hopelessly angst-ridden singer-songwriter who lands his band in front a New York City judge twice for the same stupid crime.
I do hope there is still pleasure in the retelling of this tale of idiocy, first composed in 2005, when the world and I were young but not too young. I remember scribbling it into a spiral notebook because I didn't have money for a laptop. I did so while sitting in a coffee shop, waiting to go on at the Sidewalk Cafe's epic open mic. I was number 46 that evening, assuring me a 3 am performance time. I am in some ways glad that my currently impaired health situation eliminates any temptation to go into the city to attend that open mic again.
PS. It has now been four weeks since my foot surgery and my near-total confinement. For those of you who await my medical updates with even more eagerness than you await the succeeding installments of my creative masturbation, the latest diagnosis from my doctor is: "we're on the horns of a dilemma." Horns. I didn't know dilemmas had horns. But then again, I'm not a doctor.
by Eli James
The marriage of my name with a lesser man’s fate was still being consummated when the situation took an unexpected turn into the realm of the surreal, into a cavern of my subconscious I’d hoped to avoid trawling that day.
We turned to see a sprightly young man around Tommy’s age, towering over me and everyone else by about a head. He was accompanied by two adults wearing Tag Heuer watches.
“What are you up to?” he asked.
Tommy shifted his weight and moved the hands around his stomach. “Nothing, just getting a summons.”
They laughed and so did Tommy. The sprite was clear-skinned, clean-cut, and had immaculate diction. I assumed it was one of Tommy’s prep school buddies on his way to an interview at Columbia med school six years early. Turned out he was an ex-classmate who had dropped conventional schooling to pursue a full-time acting career.
“A summons for what?” his mom asked.
“Putting up band posters for my band,” Tommy said, and showed them one. They gleamed with genuine admiration.
“Eli and the Indoor Boys,” the young man read. “Who’s Eli?”
“Him.” Tommy pointed in my direction. Yeah, that’s me. The guy who could be both of your uncles.
“What are you up to?” Tommy asked the kid as if it were just another day at the office.
“Just coming from The Public,” he replied. “I got cast in As You Like It.”
“Really?” This was the first thing I added to the conversation.
“Yes.” Of course – he probably never said “yeah.” He turned from me and continued to Tommy. “Should be great. The season on ‘World’ wraps right as rehearsals begin.”
“What’s ‘World?’” I asked, without softness, my usually refined conversational skills having wilted in the heat.
“As The World Turns.”
There was a pause as everyone silently acknowledged the greatness of this fact with nodding heads and a shuffling of feet that could have passed for a celebratory dance.
“How’d you get that?”
“Through my agent,” he said, as if it was a no-brainer. In fact, to anyone who was an actor, it was.
“Who are you with?” I asked.
“Don Buchwald. You know them?”
I hadn’t been on a stage in five years. While living in L.A. trying to “hit it” as a film actor, I had made the decision to stop taking monotonous scene study classes and put my money into recording my first song demo. Obviously it was a decision that was paying off in spades. The kid, whose name I never got, was with Don Buchwald, a major agent in New York. His parents were smiling at me, patiently awaiting an explanation as to why I was grilling their son.
Tommy stepped in to assist. “Eli’s an actor.”
I hadn’t planned on revealing this, not in the light of what was going on. The news met with a chorus of “Ohhhh”s.
“Okay, boys.” The cop hadn’t gone anywhere. I’d managed to block him out during the preceding interaction. He’d finally finished what must have been a grueling load of paperwork. “Take these with you when you go.” He handed each of us a pink slip of paper. “Like I said, the judge might let you off, you never know.”
We both said, “Thanks.” A moment later he was gone. The words “Eli’s an actor” were still lurking in the air like exhaust from the departed cop car.
“So you’re an actor too,” said the mom, “That’s great!”
No one had introduced themselves, yet my name and station in life had somehow been wrenched from me and placed on the table of judgment. The questions were bound to come now, as they always did.
“Who are you with?” she asked. Asking an actor which agency he was with was like asking a funeral director, “Who’s your florist?” If the answer was “I don’t have a florist,” you probably weren’t much of a funeral director.
“No one right now. I’m just...” I turned back to the boy. “How did you get with Buchwald?” I couldn’t be shaken from my interrogation. I was always keen to know how actors in this town found their agents, as if I might follow their path and light upon the same fortune.
“I go to C.S.A.,” the kid said. “We do a showcase every semester.”
I registered blankness, darkness, and ignorance.
“Children’s School for the Arts.”
Well, it couldn’t hurt to find out what the cut-off age was.
“He’s been on a soap for the past six months,” said his mother, gripping her son’s hand.
“And now you’re in a show at The Public?” I asked.
“Looks like it,” he said. “It’s pretty cool.”
“Uh huh.” I squinted at him, sweat running down my sideburns, the black Greek fisherman’s cap I wore during the summer months to keep my Jew-fro from killing someone now feeling three sizes too small.
Tommy volunteered a further tidbit about my life in an attempt to dilute the air, or maybe because he was feeling outdone by the other parents. “Eli’s in a comedy group.”
“You are?” asked the kid, the dad, and the mom at the same time.
I shrugged my shoulders. “Yeah, yeah…” Both Tommy and I could probably take the rest of the day to list the myriad activities I was then engaged in for no money and little exposure. “Um…it’s good. You know.”
The dad grinned, looking around him. “And in a band! Renaissance man!”
“Do you have a headshot? I’ll give it to my agent.”
This came from the kid. I should have taken the opportunity to hit him; an elbow to the jaw could have done much to upset his standing with Days of Our Lives, where he was probably up for a guest spot. Why would a working actor half my age, who doesn’t know me, offer to give my headshot to his four-star agent? I didn’t ask and I didn’t raise my elbow. Instead I folded up my pink summons slip and opened my shoulder bag. “I have one on me,” I said as I dug an 8x10 glossy photo of myself out of a crumpled folder. I would take any chance I could get for forward action in my career, even if I had to humble myself before someone I wanted to maim. I handed over the headshot, which I always carried with me, and the family gathered around.
“Woah!” said the young man. “This does not look like you at all!”
“You look much older in this,” said the mom.
I craned my neck to look at the picture from their angle. “You think so?”
The kid: “Oh yeah. You look forty in this.”
I grasped at the postered lamplight to steady myself. “Forty?”
“Not forty,” he said, “but you look much older than you are. Like twenty-five.”
Tommy gave me a look.
“I am twenty-five,” I said.
I was twenty-seven.
The kid squinted at me. “Really?”
The dad: “Really?”
“No way,” said the kid. “You could easily be eighteen, nineteen.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I thought of myself as one of the oldest people in the group assembled, parents included. “Really?”
“Seriously, you need a new headshot.” The kid spoke as if he himself was an agent and had been in the business for twenty years. He spoke loudly and quickly, like he was waiting for an important call. I felt like I was at one of those seminars where you pay an industry insider to help you rethink you career. I had just received a summons for petty vandalism, confessed to the sin of not having an agent, and apparently had a headshot that looked nothing like me. A brutal lamp was being held up to my pale bald life on a Manhattan street corner awash in fire hazards.
The dad attempted to ease the blow. “You should use Doug Hampton. He’s the guy we went to for his shots.”
Had that bit of advice been followed up by a thousand-dollar loan, it might have been a fruitful exchange. As it stood, when Tommy’s friend took his leave and went off to have his roots touched up, I began convulsing, a helpless victim in the advanced stages of New York Disease. Even being told I looked younger than I was had brought me little comfort.
Silence fell on Stanton Street as Tommy and I stood glued to our spots, possibly waiting for permission from a policeman to go home. After a while Tommy spoke up, sensing my predicament. “If it makes you feel any better, he’s a real dick.”
“Total pretentious douche-bag.” Coming from Tommy, this was a monstrous attack. And it did make me feel better. Yeah. That kid was a pretentious dick. There was never any reason to feel inferior when you were comparing your career to someone who wasn’t nice. He was a dick, and I was a nice guy, right? And that had to be more important.
Tommy had just demonstrated an uncharacteristic sensitivity, something I hadn’t thought him capable of. I felt shameful about my latent harshness toward him, fueled by my many jealousies. I wanted a hug. I wrapped one arm around him, effecting the shoulder-knock American males use to ease the shock of an unexpected embrace.
“Thanks, man.” I said. And as I unstuck my dampened forearm from his neck, I gave him a friendly shake. “I’ll see you in court.”
On a rainy Tuesday morning I entered a municipal courthouse in the belly of Tribeca, a belly rotted with ulcers and fast-food waste. After removing my belt, shoes, and semblance of composure I went into the courtroom and sat among the accused, most of whom had been cited for peeing outdoors. I wore a black suit, white shirt and tie, and was one of the only people crammed into the moldy hall that spoke English. I was handed a pamphlet when I checked in, informing me that my case would be heard by a New York State Adjudicator. I didn’t know what an Adjudicator was, but assumed from the lack of robe that it was someone who had just missed his chance at being a Judge. This might have explained the disdain for the job that emanated from the bench, and the swiftness with which each sentence was dispensed. There were over fifty people waiting to answer for their hysterical incontinence. Had I been an Adjudicator, I would have wanted to get it over with too.
-- To be continued...