Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Night Out.

My wife and I decided to try out the Thai restaurant up the street from us last night for dinner. I love having dinner with my wife in a restaurant. We giggle a lot. Bless her heart, for some strange reason she still finds me amusing on occasion. And vice versa.

For the life of me, I don't know how this place stays open. I've never seen a single soul in there. Years ago, in NY, I was between acting gigs and decided to get a job waiting tables again for awhile. Back then it was relatively easy to find a job waiting tables. These days, I'm told, getting a job waiting tables is almost as tough as it is to get a job on a network series. Anyway, so I wander into this place in Chelsea one day and drop off a resume. This must've been around 1989 or so.

The place was owned by two women, lovers as it turned out, and one was the manager and one was the chef. They specialized in free-range food. The restaurant was called 'The Restaurant with No Name.' That was the actual name of the place. They hired me on the spot and asked if I could begin that night. I was delighted. So I show up for work a few hours later and they put me immediately 'on the floor.' I stood there all night. No one came in to eat. The next night, same thing. The third night, same thing. Just me and the two hopeful lesbians. It got to be sort of embarrassing. Someone would wander by, pause briefly to glance at the menu on the door, we'd all stand up and brush our clothes, attentive faces frozen in tight smiles, the would-be customer would look in and see us, far too eager, nearly ready to run out and physically drag him into the place, he'd get a little frightened and slowly wander off. We'd glance uncomfortably at each other, sit back down and watch the clock. Finally, after the third night on the job I told them I couldn't come back. I said, as nicely as possible, they might consider changing the name to 'The Restaurant with No Customers.'

Anyway, that's sort of how this Thai place is on the corner. Angie and sat there, alone in the place, eating our Phad Toe Fung or whatever, while they all sort of stared at us and rushed over to fill our water after every sip. Once they were a little late on that part and I suggested we lower the tip.

But that's not the point. The point is, I love being alone with my wife. I don't have many close friends. This, I'd like to think anyway, is by design. I'm simply one of those people that has never really allowed myself to be too accessible. Angie knows this about me and frequently comments on it. She, of course, is just the opposite. She has a whole gaggle of close friends. Her demeanor is open and caring and if you're her friend, chances are you're her friend for life. Me, I'm more like Dick Nixon at a picnic. Uncomfortable with small talk and too severe for idle chit chat. I wasn't always that way. But it's the way I choose to live today.

I have two close friends in Los Angeles. And I'd do anything for them. Both, not surprisingly, have been friends for many years. They both knew me when I was not so guarded, not so distant, not so insular. And they both stood beside me when terrible things were happening in my life.

At the moment I'm doing this little skit out at The Odyssey Theatre called 'The Adding Machine.' Often times I have someone I know in the audience and am compelled to go out front to the lobby and say hello after a performance. I rarely do this sort of thing, not because I'm a snob or arrogant or anything else, but because it makes me intensely uncomfortable. I don't take compliments well, like a lot of actors I know, and the whole backslapping, 'loved your work,' kinda thing just makes me squirm. Not to mention the whole backslapping, 'hated your work' kinda thing. The other cast members are always giving me amused grief about it. In fact, a few weeks ago I actually went out front for a moment after the show and the house manager rushed over to me and asked urgently if I was alright.

So anyway, there we are, my wife and I, sitting alone in this Thai place, making each other smile and grimace and titter, a little chilly 'cause it's cold in LA these days, and I look around and think to myself, 'this is it. This is my life. This is the moment I've cultivated for fifty years.' And I was perfectly content with it.

I thnk most of that contentment has to do with a buried sense of gratitude. I don't express it enough, at least not out loud. I'm writing a new piece these days, working title 'The Promise,' although I'm sure that will eventually change, and there's a pivotal monologue in the second act as one of the characters tries to express how difficult it is to climb out of his own hole of self-exile from the world. Sounds a little high-falutin' but it makes perfect sense in the context of the play, I hope. Anyway, I can't seem to find the exact words to use in the monologue. The words that might make the speech universal. I've been thinking about it a lot over the past few weeks. I didn't have a solution. Sometimes when I get snagged on a moment like this in my writing I just have to let it percolate for a little while until I see or hear something that opens the flood gates. Last night at that empty Thai place was one of those moments.

It occurred to me that being alone was not always the result, the settlement, the sad ending, but rather a choice, a solution. I'd been approaching the speech from the wrong direction. It's not a rant but a testimony. Not an inevitability, but a decision. I've been thinking about it all night and woke early this morning, around five a.m., and finally decided to write it that way.

We, my wife and I, live in the 'Rancho Distict' of Burbank/Glendale. That is to say, the area near the Equestrian Center where nearly everyone in the neighborhood has horses in their backyard, us included. It's sort of like living in Green Acres right smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles. Our neighbor has a rooster. He begins his morning keening (the rooster, not the neighbor) around this time everyday. Aside from the distant train whistles I used to hear laying in bed as a boy in my hometown in Missouri a couple of centuries ago, it may be the most mournful sound I've ever heard. It sounds so terribly alone to me. So isolated. But when the rooster is approached, he quickly runs away and becomes sullen and watchful and silent. I feel very much at home living next to that rooster.

See you tomorrow.