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Monday, May 16, 2011

Show Bidness is/was My Life



 "I'm a little tea-pot, 
short and 
stout, this 
is my 
handle-"




      A historic moment is just weeks away.
      My proudest moment in a long and checkered almost-show business career is about to be replaced on my life's highlight reel.
      It only took a summer pulling twenty-four foot boards off a planing mill's conveyor belt and another loading eighty pound bales of hay onto twin trailers of a semi truck in the August broiler of Klamath Falls to propel me into show business. There had to be a better way to make beer and cigarette money than sweating your noogies off and having to peel straw out of the crack of your buttocks. (Not that there's anything wrong with that or any other good honest work) I set off to find it.
       I'd dabbled in show business all of my life, of course. I think my older sister Lana said it best when she snapped at me—"Sit down and shut up, you tubby little show-off you! "—Or words to that effect. I may not be remembering the moment accurately, as I was ducking to avoid a steak knife she'd flung at me at the time.
       When I entered college, under the influence of a profoundly talented high school teacher, I began as a math major. This quickly changed during my Freshman year after drawing a calculus instructor whose voice was so flat and uninflected, it sounded like a Gregorian chant riddled with equations. Ninety minutes in his classroom was the spoken word equivalent of a Kenny G concert. Forget waterboarding—any suspected terrorist would break down and blurt out every secret he knew and several more he'd borrowed from his friends just to escape the lecture hall.
       Somehow, I drifted into the theatre department and soon found myself on stage as part of several graduate student thesis productions. (They were desperate, all the real actors were already in the mainstage show). From there I stumbled down the hall of the fine arts building and into the 5 watt student radio station. My career as a semi professional pronouncer had begun.
       "Here is my handle, here is my spout."
       Realizing I'd discovered a perfect match for my skill set (combining physical sloth, healthy ego and runaway mouth), plus a great scam (what could be better than being paid to talk?), I began a lifelong journey as a radio performer. My dulcet tones and rounded vowels, (I understand there is surgery to correct that painful condition these days) disarming wit ( some would say I'm overstating this boast by 50%), and first name relationship with local U-haul rental agencies, by career's end, I'd managed to claw my way up to the middle of the broadcast industry.
       I'd estimate, that over 43 year career as a radio performer, I've been in front of the mic somewhere in the neighborhood of, lessee now 43 years, 52 weeks each year, five or six days a week, plus more when somebody didn't show up on time, subtract vacations, mental health days and hangovers, carry the seven, divide by 43.8, factor in the square root of . . . Okay, a whole bunch of times. Plus I've performed on several thousand commercials, did promotional appearances, MC work and public address gigs. I even chewed up the scenery in several more stage plays in the years since I left college.
       If someone is assembling a life highlight reel as Albert Brook's proposes in his film Defending Your Life, I'd like to shuffle the order of my top five moments. There's a new kid at the top, thanks to director Nathan Markiewicz's drunken decision to cast me as Gonzalo in the Portland Actor's production of The Tempest in Lovejoy Fountain Park this summer. Actually, I have no evidence he was drunk, but it offers the only realistic explanation for his choice.
       But I digress (words that may appear on my tombstone). Let's run down the newly adjusted top five. Maestro, a little countin' 'em down music, please. (Kenny G's version of "Give My Regards To Broadway" plays under this segment.)
  
#5. Hosting the local segments of the Miss U.S.A. pageant in front of a crowd of 10,000 people. I shared a stage with 52 of America's most beautiful and voluptuous women (including queens from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands) without once having an embarrassing pants moment. If you catch my drift and I'm sure I do. To this day, I remember the reaction of my male friends to this news. "Dude, you gay, or what? It's okay, with us, but Duuuuuude !!!"

#4. Conceiving and collaborating with my unindicted co-conspirator Rick Huff on the "First and Only Annual Albuquerque April Fool's Day Parade." This imaginary procession existed only on the radio. Thanks to my multi-voiced friend Huff, we managed to check in throughout the morning from our reviewing stand at the intersection of two streets that ran parallel to each other, several miles apart. Featured performers included: The Amalgamated Burrito Folders Precision Refried Bean and Baton Drill Team, The "Hang 'em All Now, Let God Sort It Out Later Mounted Vigilante Posse, and marching bands from non-existent area high schools tromping out-of-step while playing medleys of movie music, television themes and Broadway show-stoppers. All of which, strangely enough sounded exactly like a very discordant version of "The Stars and Stripes Forever." This bizarre broadcast caused lots of local buzz and got the radio station sued by a listener who'd packed his wife and kids into the family station wagon and spent the next three hours trying to find the parade. The "First and Only Annual Albuquerque April Fool's Day Parade" probably contributed to my next career move, collecting unemployment.

#3. The reaction of my parents after they watched me perform as Wong, the Chinese water boy in a college production of Berthold Brecht's brilliant and supremely confusing musical "The Good Woman of Sezuan." Smeared with almond-tinted body makeup and sporting an unconvincing Queue (Chinese ponytail), I'd spent two and a half hours on stage warbling songs in Mandarin, running away from the angry gods and trying to convince the good woman (a hooker with a heart of gold) to take pity and offer a freebie. My mother, whose gaping open mouth had to be surgically closed could only beam and pat my head. My father on the other hand bellowed "I thought you were a math major."

#2. "When I get steamed up, hear me shout. I'm a little teapot, short and stout." For years the unquestioned number one show biz moment in my life was my triumphant performance, as a seven-year old musical theatre prodigy of "I'm A Little Teapot Short and Stout" in the Bandon, Oregon Cranberry Festival talent show. Pushed on stage by my beaming mother and sniggering older sister I nailed it. Not only was I the physical personification of the little teapot, both short and stout, but I "became" the teapot on stage. The U.S. Savings Bond I won, had it been left to mature in seven years would have been worth a mind-boggling twenty-five dollars. However, I invested heavily in Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and Batman comic books and only realized twelve dollars and fourteen cents. An early reminder of the fickle nature of show business.

#1. During the early rehearsals of the opening scene from Shakespeare's The Tempest director Nathan Markiewicz told us; "It's a huge storm, the boat is tossed on the sea like a leaf in a wind storm. Everybody on board the ship is terrified and seasick. Who wants to vomit on stage?" Without a moment's thought I raised my hand and began waving it back and forth. "Me, Nathan, Me. Pick me. I want to do it." Though I hadn't known it until that moment, this was my chance to cap my show business career with a supremely dramatic reading of the upchuck chronicles. Despite the rabid competition for the honor, I won the great honor of feeding the fish in front of culture-loving outdoor audiences during some sixteen performances. If you're planning on attending one of our free shows (donations happily accepted) at Lovejoy Fountain Park, Thursday-Saturday from mid June through mid-July, and were planning on sitting up front, have no fear. No Koi will be harmed during my on-stage antics and no actual projectiles are involved in the aforementioned Ralph-a-thon. Thanks to my imagination, vocal chords and a handy nearby white five gallon bucket I'll be able to create the illusion without paying anyone's dry cleaning bill.

I anticipate that nothing will ever replace this crowning achievement.  After all, come on, shouting at my shoes on stage? How much better could it get? Unless my other, long repressed fantasy somehow becomes reality. But somebody's going to have to pour a lot of liquor into the director of a production of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, for that to happen. Anybody know where I can find a tutu in a 38 long?

4 comments:

  1. Thank you on behalf of all teapots!

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  2. Of course, my triumph as the little teapot led to me being typecast and playing all manner of crockery in other shows. Among my roles, casserole dish, Dutch oven and fondue pot.

    Anybody else have memories of talent shows as a kid? Actually, I entered the year after I won and came in third for my rendition of "The Hokey Pokey." I think I won two movie tickets.

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  3. Can't wait to see you in the Tempest. Of course your previous gigs may have set the bar rather high.
    I had a dramatic moment in a nativity play. My older sister kept prompting me on my lines (I was just pausing for drama I hadn't forgotten them, really). So there in front of a good sized small town crowd and fairly religious family I shouted (on stage)that she should "Shut the Hell UP and Leave Me Alone" I was six, hauled off the stage by my embarassed mother. My subsequent theatrical experences were better (they had to be).

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  4. David: What a great story. Thanks for the comment.

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