The following is an e-mail I sent last November to the people in my “Acting Improvisation” class. It’s taught by an actress named Rita Pietropinto. (Most of her experience is from plays, but she was Aunt Amy on Daria, and appeared in the seventh episode of the first season of Chappelle’s Show. It's always funny to see a real teacher ask questions about “Jedi Boy-Touching.”)
Hello classmates and teacher,
I feel like writing something. And since it’s relevant to you all, I figured you should have the chance to read it. (I was able to get your e-mails because I happened to still have the ‘Class Cancelled Wednesday’ e-mail Rita sent a while ago.)
After the end of today’s class, during Rita’s recount of her unfortunate encounter with the “Waterbottle Man,” I blurted out, “Was he Asian?”
Rita’s story had reminded me of another subway story - - a high school teacher of mine, and some classmates made the literary magazine at our school, and they won an award from Columbia University for their efforts. They went to New York to receive the prize, and they happened to get on the subway car with this one man. This man was Asian, and wore a business suit. He rode the subway standing up. After a couple of stops, he unzipped his pants, pulled out his “water bottle,” and held onto the rail with his thing hanging out.
My own personal subway/bus story is not full of as much action, though it made an
impression on me. In high school, I lived in Tampa, Florida, and due to volunteering at the library, I had to take the city bus home. It was an hour-long ride, and one evening, a man stepped onto the bus. He was the man on whom I based my “crazy” character in the beginning of the semester. He was the physical embodiment of potential violence.
He wore a sleeveless black shirt, and black jeans, and black socks. He was over 6ft, and long limbed, and had flaring nostrils. One of his middle fingers was wrapped in a band-aid, and wore headphones. He was muscular, but not as a bodybuilder is. He wasn’t sculpted with intent to produce form--he was sculpted for function. He was wiry, and it seemed as if he got his from pushing boulders up a hill.
In my performance, I attempted to recapture exactly how he moved. From when he strode down the aisle, and fell back into the seat almost in front of me, and flicked the wall of the bus with his fingertip, he twitched at this schizophrenic rhythm. I could not tell if he was real, or faking it, because he was so extreme.
So, of course, I stared at him. As you all know, NYC is different from the rest of the world. Here, if you notice something weird/threatening, you play dumb, and give them the threat wide berth. But, in smaller/quieter places, there is a tendency to want to say, “Hey, that’s interesting.” *poke poke*
So I stared. And there was this part of me that wondered, “If I could beat this guy in a fight, that’d be so cool.” It was not sadism, or sociopathy. This urge was more in the Hemingway-ish vein. This was more like a daredevil before a jump, or a man before he proposes to his Love. He thinks, “Oh man, I could seriously screw things up, but if I succeed, it would be so cool.” Here was a man who seemed like he could destroy me easily, and so there was this part of me that wanted to prove itself.
Well, of course, he caught me staring. He winked at me. And I stopped looking at him for the rest of the ride, though I had to fight the urge to look at him again. Out of sheer curiosity. *poke poke*
He exited the bus two stops before mine.
More than anything else, by the time I have grandkids, I would like to have lots of
stories to tell. Just endless endless amounts. Like the high school teacher I had who taught English to the Eskimos, met his future-wife when he was a scuba instructor, and had a rather vicious run-in with the Mexican police (he wrote a novel based on the years he lived in Mexico). Yes, this teacher would break into a story about once a day while we did our in-class work. I am writer, and I like writing, and my urge to have a lot of experiences may very well be influenced by my hobby/life’s-work.
I’ve gathered a nice little collection of stories myself. For instance:
My little brother and I worked at a sandwich shop last summer. A man once called 911 on us because the bread of his sandwich was harder than he liked it. I will not elaborate much further, for time runs short, and writing takes time. But I knew he was a potential problem when he leaned over to ask his daughter what sandwich she wanted, and she wouldn’t look him in the eye. She flinched at every word he said.
Now, I will say that you women must have great stories. All the weirdoes approaching you on the street. Sometimes when I’m talking to a woman, and she brings up how some guy was bothering her, I realize, “Oh, yes, I forget. People tend to bother other people with forward requests or inappropriate actions. Well, they approach anyone but me.”
You see, people have thought I was scary since at least 10th grade. Seriously - - once, I was in the hallway of my school, and this one woman asked me, serious, “Oh my God. Are you going to kill somebody?” Even when I was in an okay mood, I always looked angry.
And then, one day after school, I was looking in the locker room for my little brother because he was not picking up his cell phone. I asked this one guy, some stoner-looking soccer player, if he had seen a dude with a large afro (my little brother used to sport the world’s greatest afro-hair). The stoner-looking dude said, “Are you going to fight him?” He thought, by the way I had asked the question, that I was very very angry, when, really, I was only mildly frustrated.
Only people who know me, people who don't care, and people who are stoned approach me freely (listen about the time, during my first serious acting experience, when I was backstage and one of the other actors pretended to almost whip out his penis at my mouth. Never before had 10-days of out-of-school suspension been worth punching somebody in the face).
Yes, ladies, it must be annoying to have all those dudes try to do things with you. It must get tiring to have strangers say to you,
“Oh, you’re pretty. Let’s go out and eat some dinner sometime.”
“Can I put my finger in your butt?”
But at least you’re exposed to so many different people. You meet the cute charming guy in the Yankees pinstripe shirt, and you meet the pervert guy in the business suit. You meet the construction worker, the convenience store cashier, the lawyer, the doctor, the pimp, the drug dealer, the psychotic genius, the sweet mentally challenged guy, the psychotic mentally challenged guy, the polite genius. By all means, men are as involved in people as much as you all are. But you have the luxury of being able to do nothing, and someone to bother you. Life approaches you in a faster pace this way. I mean, when I sit on a park bench, the only people who bother me is the guy asking for change, and the really lonely dude walking his Toto-type dog. When YOU are on a park bench, the whole dynamic of the situation changes. I won’t care to elaborate, because I’ve never been a woman, and I’ll probably be talking out-of-my-ass on some/most points.
And, yes, though you may disagree with my positive tone regarding weirdoes approaching you, I do believe that you should agree with this following idea: no one can get enough practice in dealing with conflict. In dealing with conflicts among friends, family, and strangers. Through conflict, we can better learn fearlessness, tact, morality, and discipline and humility and humor. By all means, avoid all conflict, but when conflict hunts you down (and it hunts us all), take stock of what’s happening so that the event turns you into a stronger person. Darwin said that the most successful mammals thrive by adapting. So adapt fast. Because one day could be sitting backstage during a play, and one of the other actors could walk toward you, and while walking, unzip his pants.
Life is beautiful and wonderful and awkward.
Life is like unrequited love.
Like is like the world’s best one night stand.
Life is like the serial killer living in your neighborhood, unbeknownst to you.
Life is like a bag of chips (not chocolates) because it stains your fingers and is hard
to wash off.
Life is like the moon before we landed on it. For all we know, it’s made of cheese.