Archives for the month of: July, 2013

Orange_Water_wings

There’s already a family splashing around when I show up to swim a few laps. Well, most of a family. Three little kids bob in the water, rendered genderless by the sheer number of floatation devices strapped to their little bodies. The mother’s covered head to foot, Muslim, Sikh? I don’t trust myself to know which. I smile as broadly as possible, shooting out a squeaky hi as I fast-walk past her. She smiles back. Raptor eyes return to the three bobbing shapes. I wonder for a second about the odds of her jumping in the water after them, covered as she is, should something go wrong. But I notice how she’s perched on the lounge chair, anything but relaxed, coiled to spring.

I shuck off my shirt. For an absent moment I wonder if it’s rude to be partially unclothed if she doesn’t have that option. Am I being insensitive? Or is anxiety about offending itself testimony to my ignorance?

Sliding into the water on the far side of the pool, I try to block the family out of my mind. I start to swim. Like always, it’s humbling. When I run, I can convince myself that I’m fit. Then I try to swim, and my body screams. My lungs whine, my arms ache, and my legs rebel. It’s not my element.

Sputtering after a length, I grab the edge of the pool. I overhear a little boy’s voice say, “He’s resting. Is he resting? He’s resting, right?” I need a good deal more rest, but I take off again anyway. Why do I care what this boy thinks?

A few more lengths pass. I get the second wind (the second current?) and I’m much more comfortable. I’m ahead of my usual pace. It’s going to be a good day.

In the periphery of my vision, I glimpse a dark blur. For some reason, I reach out for the side of the pool. That’s when she strikes.

“Hi!” Based on the voice, probably a little girl. It’s alarmingly hard to tell, with short, slicked-back hair and a buoyant sheath around her middle.

“Hi.” I say it with a smile, injecting as much friendliness and non-threat as humanly possible. With first blood drawn, the other kids feel it’s finally safe to approach. They scramble our direction.

“What are you doing?” What a relief. A question I can always answer.

“Swimming laps. For exercise.” Again I smile, for lack of anything more interesting to contribute. How can I call myself a conversationalist if I don’t even know how to talk to a kid?

“Why?”

Vanity, I think immediately. I respond, “To stay healthy.”

“Healthy?” Kids don’t bother to conceal confusion.

“To stay young, like you.” It’s an almost truth if I don’t think about it too much.

“But Mommy and Daddy and Adi and Mommy don’t- Mommy didn’t bring her swimsuit- and Adi didn’t bring hers. But she’s in S’Arabia.”

That takes a moment for me to process. “Well, that’s a pretty good reason, I say,” stating the obvious.

Now the other blobs have floated their way close enough to gain genders. A young boy, and a bashful girl who’s probably a few years older than the others.

“Where are you from?” asks Big Mouth.

Again showing off my highly developed conversational skills, I point towards the apartment complex. You can actually see my window.

She flops around, spewing water everywhere, incredulously, squinting as if looking for something through the building. Then she slowly turns back and eyes me like I’ve just tried to cheat at Go-Fish. “No! I mean where are you from.”

“I’m from America.”

My lack of understanding clearly frustrates her. “No, I mean where are you from. What country are you from?”

“I’m from here,” I repeat, a little catch in my throat.

“No, what country are you from? Like, I’m from S’Arabia. And Adi’s from S’Arabia.”

I take a moment to think this over. Finally: “I’m from Texas.”

A smile takes over her face. “Are you a cowboy?”

If she’d been 15 years older, I’d be miffed by the use of the stereotype. As is, I smile against my own will. “No, no. I’m not a cowboy.”

“I’m going to ride a horse.”

“Really?”

“Yep. When I’m 4, I ride a horse.”

Now the pudgy boy has paddled his way over. “How many do you have?” he says.

I decide he’s not talking about horses. “I have 21 years, I tell him.”

“Right now I’m 5,” brags the first girl.

“Oh really? My little sister’s 5 too.”

“Really!?” The girl’s jaw drops open.

The pudgy boy has a different perspective. He starts to paddle towards the side of the pool. “Like anyone cares!”  he shoots towards me.

But my interrogator is still confused. “What!?”

“That’s impossible,” continues the boy, implying that someone might care just a little bit.

By now the three have me surrounded, positively pinned against the side. It’s a blockade Nelson would have been proud of.

“I should probably…” Again, I show off my linguistic mastery by making swimming motions with my arms.

Then the boy spits water on me. I don’t really mind. Hell, I’m in a pool. Odds are good I’m swimming in the kid’s pee anyway. But I seize on the excuse to leave the conversation. I leap between two inflatable dreadnoughts and swim another length.

As I approach that side of the pool again, another dark blur hovers nearby. I come up.

“Sorry!” the boy squeaks out. It’s a hit and run. He starts paddling away. I look over at his mother, who smiles at me and mouths an apology. They’re good kids, I decide. She must know what she’s doing.

barrel

Today we’ll score our personality tests. Or so we were told by our torso of a psych professor. Not fat, but an astonishingly barrel-like man. He rolls back and forth across the front of the lecture hall, confidently pronouncing about the distribution of different personality types in our class. Since we’ve got 80-100 students in the class, there ought to be enough to get fairly even dispersal.

For homework, we’d been instructed to fill out an online questionnaire and designate his email to receive the results. Walking in at 9:25, I took the proffered score sheet, an indecipherable alphanumeric jumble.

The barrel spews out words. Anyone with an EX score over 3.5 should raise their hands. Maybe half of our number raise the trademarked college student bent-armed salute, refined over the generations to convey as much participatory reluctance as possible. These, we’re told, are the room’s extroverts. They thrive on social interaction.

My score is way lower, a 1.6, so I don’t do anything. The barrel starts again. Now he wants everyone with an EX score below 1.75 to raise their hands. I do so. In my sleepy state, it takes a few moments to realize everyone’s looking at me. I’m the only one with a hand in the air.

Perfect. Of course the other introverts wouldn’t identify themselves. My professor addresses me. What traits do I think make me an introvert? How about the fact that I never speak up in class and I never do things to draw attention to myself? He nods, deeply contemplative of my sarcasm. “Fascinating,” he says.

frog

I’ve been told the best way to get humans to bond is to have them risk their lives together. Surely the second-best way to bond must be performing. Nothing’s scarier than getting in front of people and saying, “Hey, I’m worth paying attention to!”

Intending to meet people while nurturing my inner actor, I signed up for a 24 hour play event in my new town. For those unfamiliar with the concept: a series of (short) plays are written, rehearsed, and performed by various groups, all in a span of less than 24 hours. The crowds are usually pretty forgiving, because dropped lines, miscues, and ad libbing are common. Plenty of people show up just to enjoy the train wrecks.

They call roll. A man with a theatre-beard and a ponytail calls my name, a rare perfect pronunciation, and my hand shoots up. He points at me, then jerks his thumb towards the back. I’m with him. He calls several other names. Everyone meanders to the front.

Huge age differences in our group. It’s strange coming from the artificial college environment where you spend four years surrounded by perfect coevals. Very disconcerting to be interacting with this 30 something director, who apparently has a kid. I’m socializing with people who’ve procreated!? And then there’s the graying, slightly overweight man with the well-trimmed beard. He’s got the clear look of the bard; tons of Shakespeare has slipped past that beard. The third guy in our group also has an excellent beard. In fact, he carries with him the air of coolness, like the kind of guy at the top of every girl’s list. But at the same time, he’s reserved, not dominating conversation at all. An attractive person without an ego; I take an immediate dislike to him.

Why, I ask myself, did I not grow a beard? I’d fit in much better.

Then there are the girls. I list them second, but it goes without saying that they were noticed, and in greater detail, first. There’s the stage-hand playing actor tourist. And that’s fine, it’s one of the reasons 24 hour plays happen. Casual acting opportunities. She smiles a lot, slips catnaps into the rehearsal schedule, compliments everyone appropriately, and references her marriage as often as possible.

The bulk of my male awareness centers on the second girl. She initially repels.  Though clearly little older than myself, she dresses unironically like a 65 year old. Loafers. Waist-high pants. Thick, horn-rimmed glasses. On someone with more confidence, this could be a hipster look, but as if ashamed of herself, she avoids eye contact, muttering words straight into the carpet. But I know she’s pretty. A nice figure, great hair and skin. Hair, eyes, nose, and the rest roughly in their designated places. A degree and a nice job; a fondness for video games; knowledge of obscure writers. What more could I want in a girl? Still, it’s baffling to see such a beautiful girl shackle herself with self-defeating body language. It’s like the first 30 minutes of any Julia Roberts movie.

The final girl is the quintessential train wreck. An unemployable reservation child bumped from city to city her entire life, and finally settled on studying theatre. Devoid of prior theatre experience, she must be in it for the big paychecks. Her speech patterns speak to her lack of education. I tamp down the thought as soon as it pops into my head. But it’s there, for a second.

I hate the play almost as much as its author. Shoeless, he ambles through the audience house wearing athletic shorts and an Athletics jersey. His jacket hood is up, and his arms swing so much I worry he’ll spill his open beer.

Frustration froths inside throughout the first read-through. It’s a fable, in the sense that most of the characters are frogs, or talking trees, or halves of a hole. Yes, two actors work as a team to represent the absence of dirt. Fortunately, I’m cast as a man. Even if one-dimensional, predictable, and boring, at least the part’s the correct species, right?

Specifically, I’m an explorer. With each successive read-through, my character invades the pristine Caribbean island, home to the venerable leptodactylus fallax (or Chicken Frog). Bravely, each iteration of the explorer scrapes the potentially cancer-killing fungus from the Chicken Frog, basking for a few moments in the promise of altruism before succumbing to hunger and trying to eat the nearly extinct frog. Not surprisingly, the explorers’ gluttony are their undoing. Each tries to use a helpful talking tree for firewood, briefly, before being crushed by his own felled timber.

Again and again I become the explorer. Rehearsals start to seem endless. The play is only 6 minutes long and we’re given nearly 8 hours to rehearse. Line memorization is less of a problem than remembering who I actually am.

And yet, our born-again theatre major cannot get her lines straight. Long after our married girl masters speaking tree and our Julia Roberts perfects her holiness, this supposed theatre major cannot remember her 6-line rhyming poem. Professional theatres can fire people. Even community theatres can shuffle people around. In a 24 hour play, casts are stuck. Those of us versed in theatre understand this, and know that criticism at this point will only cause more harm. We can’t risk making driving her to quit. We need her now, even for just 6 little lines of frog poetry.

So we break out all of our memorization advice, every single trick we’ve picked up over the years. Still, she struggles. And then, in time, after putting in a great deal of practice, she gets worse. It’s a miracle. Still, we keep rehearsing. I explore more, becoming the prototypical blundering, environment squandering human over and over. Slowly, and quite against my will, I start to perceive nuances. The man’s obliviousness to the pleas of nature become less preachy and more tragic. The tree’s breathy whistling becomes truly ominous. The wailing of the holes actually speaks something into my heart about nihilism. A monologue from our doomed Chicken Frog, in the hands of our experienced bard, takes on deep undertones of loss and loneliness. Where before I’d seen a cliched, prideful man, I now see a well-meaning person led astray by temptation. Good intentions leading to a flawed result.

Surprisingly, our little play comes together. But our theatre major still can’t master her handful of lines. How frustrating, to watch her incapable of spitting out 6 measly little lines and walking offstage. That’s all the play calls for, all we ask. Just a little prologue to set-up the action. By this point she’s spending equal parts of time lamenting future failure and practicing lines. It’s not a good sign. Lining up behind the curtain, we grit our teeth against the worst.

The curtain opens. Frog-man, tree, and two hole halves kneel, sit, or stand frozen. I wait offstage. The frog-girl, our theatre major, crosses to center stage. Her first line comes out. Then the second, and the third. The first five come out beautifully, followed by 9/10ths of the 6th… and then she stops. Slowly, the frog-girl turns and exits. Not perfect, but enough to get the point across. The main action commences. We execute just as rehearsed. Lying crumpled in a heap with the holes and the tree, a dead frog prostrated just beyond, I realize that the frog girl lives. Of everyone, the frog girl lives. She’s our protagonist.

Our theatre major got more out of that experience than the rest of us. We put on a performance. She faced a fear.

Now I’ve got the number of a beautiful, unattractive girl in my phone. What will I do with it?