These images are pretty hilarious, sans context. Or maybe it is only the context that makes them hilarious. Or maybe it’s only Michael and me who find them hilarious. Or maybe you had to be there. Who cares.
Many moons ago, I was in a production of Killer Joe in Ithaca, New York. I’ve written about that experience before, mainly in this piece about Michael, who was also in the show. To describe what was going on with both of us at that particular moment in our lives and how we came together and why we got on so well immediately – where he was coming from, where I was coming from – would require a Venn diagram that I just don’t have time for, although I did get into some of it in that piece. Regardless, it happened. Our romance didn’t last long (because of that Venn diagram I don’t have time for), although a marriage proposal did come out of the blue 5 years later – at a time when we hadn’t seen each other in years, and weren’t even in touch on a regular basis – and I threw a wrench into the works by saying Yes – heavens! what do we do NOW? – but our friendship has lasted to this day. It seemed very important to me once upon a time to ask myself WHY so-and-so played such a huge role in my life. It doesn’t seem as important now. All that matters is it happened. Sometimes people find each other.
During our time in Ithaca, three of us in the cast (there were two more who bailed: lucky them) appeared on a local cable access show (one notch up in production values from Wayne’s World) to promote the show and be interviewed by the host (I cannot remember his name). There was a local station and Michael, Laurie and I showed up at the appointed time, having no idea what we were walking into. The interview, as I remember it, as Michael remembers it, was excruciatingly long – half an hour! – and awkward. The weirdest thing though is that I – only me? It can’t be – was provided with a video taped copy of the broadcast. Which I still have. I watched it just once back when I first received it, just enough to know that it was 1. almost too unwatchably awkward to endure; and 2. one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
The VHS tape captures a certain moment in time, in a way that seems particularly precious because it came from before everyone had videos on their phones. I have no “footage” of myself in Ithaca, or that time in my life, of course I don’t. Just some pictures, including a photo I treasure, maybe my favorite photo of me. I don’t say that with vanity, but with gratitude that the MOOD of that time – who I WAS at that time – was captured. And it was taken by Michael.
There is that experience, there are my feelings for him and that time. Maybe I am nostalgic. I have a very hard time with the past, though. Let’s just say I am grateful for that time in my life, that blazing autumn of Ithaca and Michael and Killer Joe.
I look at pictures of us, and we dress alike, we stand alike, our body language mirrors one another, our glasses are the same, our shirts were the same (Gen X grunge kids), and etc. You see this happen with couples who have been together for 10, 20 years, but after 2 weeks? We weren’t imitating each other. We showed up for that experience and recognized a kindred spirit. That’s all.
How on EARTH did we get that close that fast? Only youth can be that free and courageous. My favorite example of this is Michael saying to me, 4 weeks into our time in Ithaca, “I think you and I are in a rut. We need to shake things up.” A rut. After 4 weeks. We sure were though. Exhibit A.
There are a couple of immortal lines from the interview that have stuck with me, and both came from Michael, who could barely restrain his feelings about what was going on. He COULD NOT DO IT.
1. The interviewer said, “The show is very violent and you –” looking at me — “take the brunt of it. How do you avoid getting hurt?” I opened my mouth to give a professional answer about running the fight choreography before every show, but Michael beat me to the punch, drawling, gesturing at me, “You should see her knees.” It was so inappropriate, because he said it like, “And believe me, pallie, I have, and they’re a MESS”, and I burst out laughing.
2. The interviewer asked the three of us, “Have you been enjoying your stay in Ithaca? What do you do during your time off?” Laurie and I were both about to give professional polite answers, telling him we had done hikes, gone out to wine country, ate at the Moosewood Cafe (all true), but Michael beat us to the punch, saying, “We sleep.” Laurie and I burst out laughing, and then hastened to add our polite responses to counteract the image Michael put out there into the world. Although he was right. Everyone spent a lot of time in bed although maybe not sleeping. Ba-dum-CHING.
So many years have passed since this ridiculous interview I forgot I had the VHS copy. In packing up to move to my new apartment, I found a pile of old tapes, looking through them. (I still have a VCR for this very reason. So many of my favorite films did not make the transition to DVD, let alone streaming. Screw technology.) The entire experience came flooding back into my mind: the interviewer’s bright green socks. Michael’s sprawling posture next to me, nearly horizontal.
Our monotonous voices as though we were announcing a death as opposed to promoting a show. The cameraperson who was basically John Lithgow in Garp. I am not saying that with judgment. I am saying it with celebration: Go you in Ithaca in the 90s! – but it was still part of the random-ness of the atmosphere. The bright blue background that made us look – again – like we were in a Lynchian space or about to film an extremely boring porno. Michael’s inappropriate comments suggesting a vast world of disreputable behavior behind the scenes.
Out of curiosity, I popped in the tape to watch. Only 15 seconds later, I was laughing so hard that tears were literally streaming down my face. It HURT. It has been a long long LONG time since I have laughed that hard. I couldn’t breathe. I scared my cat. Every second was funnier than the last. And nobody SAID anything funny (well, Michael did. Repeatedly.) It was more the VIBE on display. The three of us were so GLUM, so SERIOUS. Nobody really smiled. We sat in a row, all in black, clasping our hands in our lap, like Automatons of Doom, as opposed to actors excited to broadcast the show to the local audience. Who on earth would want to come out and see the play starring these gloomy-Guses?
Michael and I are almost identical twins. Our body language mirrors one another. But I, of course, in watching my facial expressions can see what was really happening with me. Back then, I was in tune with Michael’s extreme discomfort, his awkwardness in self-promotion, his self-conscious awareness of how ridiculous the experience was. And I KNEW how funny the experience was, and there are moments when I am looking at Michael where I can see now that I am barely holding on. I glance at him, take him in, and then have to quickly look away.
Michael and I listen to something Laurie is saying. I look at my face and I see barely controlled hysteria. I am about to LOSE. IT. Of course the second the three of us got out of the TV station, post-interview, we could not – could NOT – stop laughing. It was such a relief to let it all out.
I took some pictures off my television and sent them to Michael, because I could not bear having this experience alone. He was blown away. WHAT AM I LOOKING AT. DM-ing me, “Please send me more. What am I saying?” My favorite comment from him was: “I will always be disappointed in us that we did not take the opportunity to use this as a Punk Rock Moment. We should have behaved really badly, lit up a cigarette, get offended at questions, storm off. Why didn’t we do that? It would have been legendary to the 15 people who actually saw it.” Michael’s only concession to that brilliant idea was after the interview ended, we sat there as the “credits” “rolled,” and the interviewer kept talking to us, even though we couldn’t be heard, and Michael, slumped in his chair, hand on his face, slowly raised his middle finger at the camera.
There’s one moment where the interviewer asks all of us about our experiences in acting before this show. (As a real grown-up now, I can hear a lot of condescension in this well-meaning man’s questions. Here we were, professional actors, in a show. And he treated us kind of like Stephen Colbert treated Eminem in that classic cable access interview.) “So is this what you want to do with your lives?” Uhm, we already ARE doing it. But anyway, Laurie gave a brief resume. I gave a brief resume. Then it was Michael’s turn. Michael was still in college. I think he had just turned 20. At age 26, I robbed the cradle. (Although Michael was a go-getter. Only a couple of years later he wrote/directed/starred in his own movie, which you all should see. Kwik Stop, I discussed here, and championed by Roger Ebert, Charles Taylor for Slate. And I wrote about it for the Ebert.com series “My Favorite Roger Review”. So Michael, all evidence to the contrary, his posture to the contrary, was no slouch. He knew what he wanted. He already had the idea for that script while we were in Ithaca, and we would discuss it. I had no doubt he would do what he said he was going to do. And he did.)
But at the time: what the hell acting experience did he have? A couple of college shows. Michael was so uncomfortable with the question, that he mumbled some answer, all as he twisted his body practically horizontally so that he was almost totally off-screen (I was DYING watching this), and from off-screen, you can hear him say – and I swear I’m not making this up – “I’ve done some kabuki.”
WHAT? I told this to Michael and he said, “Kabuki?? What the fuck.”
Laurie was the ring-leader, trying to corral Michael in. I couldn’t do it because I was finding his behavior so outrageously funny that I feared to get involved. Laurie spoke about the play, about Tracy Letts, about the rehearsal process, and the themes of the show. I spewed some bullshit about how I liked to explore “dark stuff.” NO SHEILA NO. STOP TALKING.
I sent the photo below to Michael. He responded, “Aw, that’s beautiful. Look at you buying my bullshit.”
I posted some of these images on Facebook. So many of my friends were saying, “I have GOT to see this.” “You all look like you’re about to shoot a porn film.” “Are these outtakes from Blue Velvet?”
But my favorite thing was that every person involved in that show – every cast member as well as the director – “Liked” the post, and left comments about how special the experience was.
You see? These bonds last.