I looked at our cluster of people Terri, a surfer-type guy and a very short round girl with her hair in pigtails. The booming voices of the actors onscreen punched the room, causing my eardrums to literally quiver. A live man’s voice called for us to gather in front of the screen. Bright lights beamed down and I couldn’t see the faces of the five men seated behind the electronic desk in front of us. It felt like I was in a police lineup. Then we got our motivation explained.
“The scene is at an art-opening. Have a little conversation with someone and then move on to someone else. Talk low to medium in tone and some laughing is okay. Got it?”
The screen showed the party. I found myself in a stoned zone of focus and delivery, calm and ready to perform with conviction. The scene began to roll and I turned to the guy next to me.
“Great use of color don’t you think, not too obvious but really telling a story.”
“Um, yeah dude. It’s cool I guess, yeah.”
“Have you seen his work before?”
“CUT! Excuse me, what’s your name with the blonde hair? The director was referring to my scene-mate.
“Ron, you’re talking too loud, ok?”
“Um, sorry man, ok.”
During the next take “Ron” snorted when he laughed and had to be sorted out again. The director called Terri over for a couple of minutes then she called a group meeting under searing lights in a tense whisper.
“Listen, they think you guys are professional actors. When I got the call to book this I told them you were all the real deal. Please, please do your best. I know this is a lot to ask, but try.”
The whole time she laid this out, her eyes darted from our faces to the row of staring, humorless men behind the electronic board. She was freaking and I jumped in.
“Don’t worry, we can do it right gang?”
Just before the next take I whispered to Ron.
“Just chill man, pretend you’re just hanging with pals, have fun.”
He did and it went fine. They taped a few more party takes then gave us a take ten-minute break. The director called Terri over again. My band of non-actors moved toward the snack table. I popped a Sprite and shoved half of a white-chocolate macadamia cookie in my mouth.
Ron crunched on a bag of chips and we quietly chuckled at how we were masquerading as actors. Ron turned out to be Terri’s Dad’s pool cleaner and the chubby girl was his little sister. Terri appeared from the shadows looking pale. She spoke through clenched teeth.
“Look, listen close. They want some individual takes. They’re worried that maybe you guys aren’t up for that, but I told them you can do it, please guys do your best and I swear I’ll make it up to you, can you just totally try please?”
We stared. Ron spoke. “Individual takes?”
“Yeah, it’s easy, a voice on an answering machine. They want both of you guys to do it, to compare.”
My heart thumped with horror and excitement, like when I was an altar boy and Father Collins ambushed me in the rectory. He wrestled me to the ground and pinned me, only letting me up when I started to yell.
The men re-assembled at the desk, the lights re-lit, it was Showtime.
Terri looked at me and whispered if I wanted to do it first. Yep I squeaked.
“Sure?” She hissed.
“You sure?” She repeated.
“Yeah, yep. Mmm hmm...fun, right?” She leaned in.
“Michael, you really really sure?”
“Uh, sure, yeah, why not. I can do it.” Someone said they were ready, NOW.
Terri urgently said “Ok, but can you, you know, try to really sound professional?”
“Yeah, I’ll do my best.”
“And can you, well…try not to sound, too gay?”
She turned and I followed her. The enormous room swung out in all directions. I felt both clammy and hot. I was starving and bloated and fearful of anal leakage. I went up the platform with a microphone above it. A guy handed me earphones and explained the scene.
“You’re really really pissed. You’re leaving a message for this guy who had your place trashed and then sicked the police on you. Read the lines and we’ll have a run-through.”
The whole world watched and waited as I looked at the three lines. Good Christ on a cross, how was I here, not home eating pretzels and peanut butter and sitting at my new desk? The lights were so hot that I could smell the nylon-blend of my shirt.
“Put on the headset and when you hear the third beep, start. Got it??"
“Yeah.” Somehow this was happening and I had to handle it. Beep…Beep…BEEP!! With a quivery breath I summoned as much John Wayne as I could.
“Listen Rabonowitz you coc*sucker, you greasy bastard fuc#wad! Putting the cops on my tail was really fu@kin’ smart. Now I’m gonna show you what bustin’ balls is all about. Better watch your ass you dog-#unt eatin’ cheese-dong!”
The wall-sized speakers on the stage shatteringly echoed an irate Girl Scout screaming at her Barbies.
Man’s voice: “Uh, ok, let’s go again but this time start out slower and when you get to the “bustin’ balls” part really pull it out and ride that out big.”
I was moist in places I didn’t know had sweat glands. And not just damp, a rashy, itchy hot wetness, flu-like in intensity.
“Three beeps and hit it man.”
A sliver of light found Terri as she stood very far from me. She chewed a nail and held the top of her head with her other hand, she was shitting herself too. Beep…Beep…BEEP!”
I started in a low growl, threatening as Alvin & The Chipmunks and did my gosh-darndest to sprout a pair of giant heavy testicles as I croaked toward “bustin’ balls”. I squealed so loud that by the end I thought I tasted blood.
“Once more, this time pull it out all the way.”
I wanted to wrestle the headphones off my head and run wailing to the green exit sign. I needed a shower and eight jelly donuts. Three beeps later I was barking and chewing and slamming the words. By “dong” a few tears mixed with the sweat dripping from my chin. They decided to break after that take and they told Terri to have us sign our release forms and get our amateur asses the hell out of there.