Archive | July, 2013

Well! Someone’s Got To Break The Ice And It Might As Well Be Me

30 Jul

Two posts in one day! Normally I wouldn’t inundate you with so much overwhelmingly good, thought-provoking and heart-stirring writing, but I just received some news that I feel warrants a second post.

Eileen Brennan – better known to most people of my generation as Mrs. Peacock in the movie “Clue” – has died. According to the news articles I found online today, she passed away on Sunday at the age of 80. Ms. Brennan was such a wonderful actress – she was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Captain Doreen Lewis in “Private Benjamin” in 1980 and had featured roles in great films such as “The Last Picture Show,” “The Sting,”   and one of my other favorites, “Murder By Death.” She was also seen on TV in shows like “Magnum, P.I.,” “The Love Boat,” “Blossom,” “Seventh Heaven,” “Taxi,” “Will & Grace” and she reprised her role as Capt. Lewis in a television adaptation of “Private Benjamin,” for which she won an Emmy. And many years ago I was surprised to learn that, in spite of her raspy, smoker’s voice later in life, Ms. Brennan originated the role of Irene Molloy in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway. Back in her day, she had a beautiful, rich mezzo-soprano voice. Despite her huge list of credits, though, I will always remember Eileen Brennan for playing the wonderful Mrs. Peacock in the 1985 film, “Clue.”

Image

Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock in “Clue.”

Admittedly, I was only 9 when the movie came out, and I don’t think I ever saw it in the theater, but I very distinctly remember renting it and watching it at home with our new VCR. I remember being fascinated that there were three possible endings – and that movie-goers only got to see one of the three at random in the cinema! The movie got me hooked on playing the board game which, for those young’uns out there, came first. I was charmed by it from the get-go.

I will not argue the artistic merits of “Clue,” but I will say that you would be hard-pressed to find a better ensemble in any film. Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Martin Mull, Michael McKean, Lesley Ann Warren and, of course, Ms. Brennan, deliver some of the best line readings with the most impeccable timing you’re likely to see again in one film. Ms. Brennan’s “Break The Ice” speech at the dinner table is brilliantly delivered and Ms. Kahn’s “Flames On The Sides Of My Face” is legendary. It is one of my go-to “feel good” movies when I need a pick-me-up or when I just want something familiar playing in the background. It’s one of those films that I can quote almost from beginning to end and from which there is a quote to fit nearly every occasion. It is a wonderful, underrated film that is rich with wonderful performances. It’s playing on my laptop as I write this now.

I never got to meet Ms. Brennan, but I feel her loss deeply as a fan of her work. I hope that she and Ms. Kahn are smiling down on all of us now as we remember them and appreciate how funny they both were. Rest in peace, Mrs. Peacock.

The Hostess With The Mostess

29 Jul

Greetings from Brooklyn. I have just one more week in New York and then I’m off to Kentucky to visit my family for a few days before I head out on the road again to open Peter and the Starcatcher in Denver, Colorado. Not much has really happened since I wrote last, but I never seem to be able to find the time or the energy to write. That’ll change again once I’m back on the road.

One thing that has happened, though, is the return of my friend, the Twinkie! Well…perhaps frenemy is a better term. I know Hostess Bakeries took a beating when they decided to close down production back in November due to their filing bankruptcy. Many people said it was one of the best things to ever happen to the American diet and, while I agree that Twinkies and Ho Hos, Ding Dongs and Fruit Pies aren’t good for you, I was sad to see them go and I’m even happier to see them coming back.

Image

Twinkie The Kid

As a child, I grew up in a very tight-knit family – particularly on my Mother’s side. My maternal grandmother had 8 brothers and sisters – there were a couple more who died at birth or as infants – and so we would have huge family gatherings for all the major holidays. So large, in fact, that the family would have to rent out a rec center or hall for Thanksgiving and all the sisters would work together to cook. There would easily be 125 people at any giving holiday gathering with all the cousins and second cousins around. I’m guessing it wasn’t much fun for the adults. For a kid, it was heaven. For a fat kid…?! Forget it!!

Growing up in what I consider the South, my people know how to cook and eat. My grandparents always had a garden in their backyard when I was growing up, so we would have fresh green beans and potatoes and corn that, much to my chagrin, we would have to go out and pick or dig up for dinner. We spent hours during the summer snapping green beans, steaming and peeling tomatoes or shucking corn, preparing them to be “put up,” or canned. Looking back on it, it was a good time and I think if I’d been a little older, I might have appreciated the time I got to spend with my grandparents, but back then it was a chore. My Popaw was a construction contractor and he drove a big pickup truck that had a phone in it (that was a really big deal in the early 80’s) and I really enjoyed going to work with him, mostly because we’d end up eating all day.

I remember going to work with him once and we went to a greasy spoon for lunch. I don’t remember what I ate exactly, but I know there was a bowl of chili involved and, unfortunately, it made a reappearance on the floorboard of his pickup before we got home. Sorry, Popaw. I also remember, though, that he always had a drawer full of treats waiting for me (at least I thought they were all for me) at their house, and that was usually the first place my brother and I would go as soon as we walked in the door. After we took our shoes off. No shoes in the house. Ever!!

Screen Shot 2013-07-30 at 4.02.33 AM

OK. So my grandmother wasn’t quite this extreme, but shoes are still not allowed in her house.


Oh, that glorious bottom drawer, just next to the kitchen sink, where one could find paper towels with which to wipe away the evidence of a recently eaten Ding Dong or Ho-Ho. The sound of that silver foil wrapping as you peeled it away to find that firm, chocolatey hockey puck filled with cream. The look on Twinkie the Kid’s face on the box of spongey cakes that were meant to be eaten in pairs, so you had to have a second one. That drawer was heaven. It was filled with every Hostess snack cake you could imagine and more! Hostess, Little Debbie, Keebler: You name it, it was there, and it was mine! Grandmama would try to tell me, “Only one!,” but I never listened, eating as many as I liked with the childish logic that they would never notice how many were missing as long as the box had already been opened when I got there. That was my rule: Never open a brand new box…otherwise they’d know.

Image

Kraft Pineapple Spread

Popaw also used to keep Kraft pineapple cream cheese spread in the fridge. It came in little glass jars with screw-on lids, and once all the sweet, delicious cream cheese spread had been eaten on the Ritz crackers that also lived in the magic drawer, my grandparents would wash out the jars and keep them for me to use as a kid-sized drinking glass. I thought that was pretty cool. And they kept dozens of them. They used them for juice glasses, as well. My grandparents: Recycling before recycling was cool. Who knew?

So yes, I am very happy that the Twinkie has returned. It brings back fond memories of my childhood, rummaging through that drawer when I thought everyone was napping in the den, back when my Popaw could stand up straight and walk without a limp; when he could slather some pineapple spread onto a cracker without his hands shaking; when he would drive that pickup truck at the actual speed limit because he could see and hear properly; when we would go “Dairy Dipping” at the local Dairy Queen. The return of the Twinkie makes me feel young again…makes me feel a little safer. Maybe that’s part of why I go to food as an emotional release, but that’s another entry for another day…

Back To Broadway

24 Jul

Greetings from my sublet room in Brooklyn, New York. It’s about 1:15 in the morning. I’ve just gotten home from working at Pippin on Broadway, and I have to be up tomorrow to turn around and go right back to the theatre. I miss being on tour, and I miss our tour schedule. 

I haven’t written in a while because, well…I’m home in New York and that means I’ve been hustling since I got here to make money. ‘Cause that’s typically how it works here. For me, at least. I’ve spent the last week or so working days in our office, looping thousands of gold tassels into bookmarks that are to be sent out to Chicago to promote the upcoming tour of Peter and the Starcatcher and I’ve been either working in the theatres at night or out trying to have some semblance of a life. Or I’ve just been avoiding the commute and shirt-drenching walk home to the apartment in Brooklyn. I miss Astoria, where I know where everything is and how late it stays open. Thursday night I went to Chelsea Cinemas to see “Murder on the Orient Express.” I dozed off midway through the film. I may have even woken myself with a snore or two. Sorry. Friday night I had dinner with a new friend, which was lovely. Sunday night I went to see “The Conjuring,” which gave me goosebumps almost from the moment the movie started. I highly recommend seeing it.

Now that my work in the office is done, it’s back to working the shows. It’s such a joy to work at Pippin, though it’s never been one of my favorite shows. This production, though, is thrilling and scary and dark and funny and touching. And Andrea Martin gets a standing ovation midway through the show almost every night. How many times have you seen someone literally stop the show?? Watching her number, I have caught myself so overwhelmed by joy and wonder at what she’s doing up there that I get tears in my eyes and I have to laugh. It’s truly remarkable.

Later this week, I’m working at Peter and the Starcatcher for the first time since it transferred back to off-Broadway. It’ll be good to work it and see the show again – and to familiarize myself with the merchandise and the prices again considering I’m opening the tour in Denver in a few weeks. I’ll be there for two weeks, as far as I can tell, setting up and opening the show and then training the regular merchandise manager during the second week of the run. From there I’ll come back to New York for a week and then I’ll head to Providence, Rhode Island to open the Evita tour. Then I’ll go to Memphis the next week to meet up with Flashdance again for two weeks and then I’m off to St. Louis, Missouri to meet up with Evita again and I’ll stay with that show until who knows when. Confused? Me, too. I better be getting a lot of frequent flier miles for this. That’s the plan for now, anyway. It could all change tomorrow. And that’s showbiz, kids.

Anyway. It’s late and I have a show tomorrow. I should hit the hay. 

 

Hana Wa Saku

19 Jul

Today at lunch I was talking with a friend who had recently traveled to Japan. He spent a week there last year, mostly staying in Tokyo with a short trip to Kyoto. Anyone who knows me knows that I will talk about Japan until I’m hoarse, and he made the mistake of asking me what I liked about Japan. He wasn’t being critical – he just wanted to understand why I loved my time there so much.

I gave him the only answer I could come up with: I loved everything. I completely fell in love with the country, the people, the architecture, the landscapes, the culture, the language, the order and structure and, as I would come to realize midway through our tour, I fell in love with Japanese tamashii, or spirit.

A few months ago, as I was flipping through the channels on our television, I came across a new channel – NHK World – which basically featured all things Japanese, just in English. I love to watch their news broadcasts to find out what’s actually going on in the rest of the world as opposed to hearing more about Jodi Arias or what the Kardashians are up to these days. It’s nice to have another perspective on the world. And their cultural programming warms my heart and brings tears to my eyes because it often reminds me of the wonderful friends I made while I was working there.

The more I watched, the more I noticed a tune in the background of all of the NHK World commercials. It was beautiful, but I’d never heard it before and I had no way of identifying it. Shazaam certainly was of no help, so I did some investigating by way of Google. Finding a Japanese song title is incredibly difficult when you don’t read or write kanji, so I used the listening skills I learned in Japan to write out a line of the song phonetically so I could search it. Turns out, it was either incredibly easy to find, or my Japanese is better than I thought.

The song was written and produced by NHK – the Japan Broadcasting Corporation – in response to the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region of eastern Japan in March, 2011. The version I’d been hearing on NHK World was sung by a children’s choir, but I found this video of various Japanese celebrities lending their voice to the song. It’s called “Hana wa saku,” which roughly means, “flowers will continue to bloom.” It’s a song about strength and hope and faith. Every time I hear it, it makes me think of our time in Kuji, Japan.

As I mentioned in “You Gotta Have Heart! Miles and Miles and Miles of Heart,” I went to Japan in September of 2011, just six months after that devastating earthquake and tsunami, to do a concert tour with the Tokyo Philharmonic “Neverland” Orchestra. All of us involved in the show had been keeping a close eye on the State Department website regarding the nuclear crisis happening in Fukushima, worried that our government might find it unsafe for us to travel there. But mostly I kept watching and wishing that there was something that I could do to help. I didn’t have any money to send, and I wasn’t entirely sure that money was what they wanted or needed, anyway. I felt helpless. I wanted to help them and couldn’t. I saw booking the concert tour as my opportunity to do something – even if it was just to make someone forget for a minute or two or to make them smile with a song. That desire to be good for them drove me to study my music and to do the best I could at each and every rehearsal and performance.

There was one show in particular that stood out from the rest. We had been in Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in my life, and we traveled south by train, back to the main island of Honshu. At the time, we still weren’t allowed by the U.S. government to travel within 50 miles of Fukushima, so we weren’t able to perform in any of the hardest hit areas, but we were able to perform in Kuji, a small town about 250 miles north of Fukushima.

From the train station, we transferred to a bus that would take us to Kuji. Japan is a country of overstimulation – color and lights everywhere – but we could tell something was different about Kuji. It was dark. Most of us didn’t even know we’d passed through the downtown area. There were no lights – not from houses, not from businesses, not from billboards or street lights. It was just dark. I think it was then that we realized that the town had taken a serious beating. It was dark because they still didn’t have enough power to illuminate the whole town.

The next day we went to the theatre to do our show, and in the daylight most everything where we were looked alright. We were told, though, that a few miles out toward the shore was a completely different story.

Before every performance, we would arrive at the theatre approximately four hours before the curtain actually went up. (That would never fly in the States). During those four hours, each and every instrument on the stage got its own private sound check. Every triangle, every flute, piccolo and penny whistle…they all got a sound check. Then each section of the orchestra would have a sound check together for balance. And then the entire orchestra would have a sound check for balance. Then it was the singer’s turn – each of us got about 30 seconds to sing whatever we wanted as we wandered the stage, checking to make sure they could hear us and that we could hear ourselves in the monitors. Then our Navigator (emcee), Francesco Sasaki-san, would get his own sound check. And then we’d have a rehearsal. Depending on what needed to be run, we would spot check songs or do entire pieces – with choreography – to make sure everything was right. The Japanese aren’t known for being perfectionists for nothing! After our rehearsal, we would be fed. The orchestra would get pre-packaged bento boxes, but the singers and our conductor got hot catered food – usually something the caterers thought Americans would like, which typically meant some form of a hamburg steak (a beef patty smothered in a Worchestershire-esque sauce) and/or a piece of grey, chewy chicken. There was also often salad or fruit of some sort, which is incredibly expensive in Japan, and there was always miso and rice. We also had a fantastic snack and drink table where we’d have all kinds of cookies and rice crackers and chocolates. They took great care of us.

In Kuji, we were still called four hours prior to curtain, but that day, our rehearsal would be an open one, meaning there would be people there watching us. We had a set list, and instead of spot checking numbers, we would basically give an hour-long performance. The audience members would be people who had lost their homes in the tsunami as well as many children who had been orphaned in the disaster. Backstage, next to the snack table, was a book about the tsunami and someone had marked the section with photos from Kuji.

Kuji, Japan, after the March 2011 tsunami.

Kuji, Japan, after the March 2011 tsunami.

The devastation was unreal, and to think that we were there to sing some Disney songs made the whole situation seem ridiculous. All through rehearsals in New York we had made jokes at the expense of some of the lyrics we were singing. In the opening number, “One Man’s Dream,” we sang about Walt Disney’s dream “to give to us a Disneyland where young and old can play” at a breakneck tempo. The next number was a song that had been written for the 10th anniversary of the Tokyo DisneySea theme park. It was called, “Be Magical!” and featured lyrics like, “Friends will be near for you./It’s all here for you./The perfect place to be,/Tokyo DisneySea!/It’ll be magical!” and “Worries behind you/Here you will find excitement instead.” That transitioned into “Fantasmic!”, in which we had to sing, “Imagination!/Follow your dreams/Imagination!/Catch a ride upon a moonbeam!” And then, of course, we closed the show singing “When You Wish Upon A Star” in Japanese, complete with a violin solo that would make even the hardest heart explode into fairy dust. It just seemed so trite. So…silly. Or maybe we were just jaded New Yorkers…

Those songs and their silly lyrics took on a whole new meaning that day. Standing out there, singing to kids who somehow were able to smile and laugh after all they’d lost; seeing grown men and women – Japanese men and women, who are notoriously stoic – openly weeping, either from joy or sorrow, or both. It suddenly made me realize that all they had were dreams and hopes and wishes and imagination, and we were telling them to follow those dreams. That nothing was impossible. And we were telling them that somehow, everything would be alright. Uncle Walt would make it so. And standing on that stage as Aoki-san started playing the all-too familiar, all-too sentimental melody of “When You Wish Upon A Star” as thousands of colored lights began to rise up all around us on stage, I found myself weeping, too. That’s what I had come to Japan for. That’s why I was there. I had finally found my way to help. I had never felt so fulfilled and satisfied in my entire life. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much gratitude and humility.

The rest of the tour took on a new feel for me after that, and I think for some of my cast mates, too. That day changed the show for us. We were all a little more committed to those lyrics. They felt a little more relevant and substantial. It was…magical.

Taking our bows after the open rehearsal in Kuji, Japan.

Taking our bows after the open rehearsal in Kuji, Japan.

Off The Road Again…

16 Jul

Greetings from my temporary home in Brooklyn, New York. Sunday night was our last night of Flashdance in Kansas City and was, as best I can tell, my last night with the show. My boss tells me there’s a chance I may be going back to it at some point in September for a week or two, but that’s all still up in the air. I’d like to say that it was hard to say goodbye to the show and the cast and crew, but it wasn’t really anything for me. It was hard to be sad knowing there’s the possibility that I’ll be going back, even if just for a short while, but I was also acutely aware that it could be the last time I saw them. It was very strange for me to not know exactly how to feel. Regardless of what happens in September, I’m going to miss them all very much and I wish them all the best.

Yesterday we had what amounted to an almost 12 hour travel day. We had a 2-hour delay in Dallas, so I got to my sublet in Brooklyn at around 11:30 last night. It was a long day. And it’s hot here. According to my phone, it was 86° at 11:15 last night. According to the thermostat on my taxi driver’s dashboard it was 91°. Is it autumn yet?

So, here I am, back in New York. I slept in today, enjoying the air conditioning and putting off the 15-minute walk to the subway. I need to go into the office today to drop off paperwork and sort of debrief…talk about the future…all that fun stuff. And I’m working tonight. No rest for the weary. Thank goodness I’m working – I can’t afford to be here for three weeks and not work. Honestly, I couldn’t afford to be here for three days without working! I’m already looking forward to going back into the bubble that is touring, where I don’t have to worry about making my bed or buying toilet paper or paying electric bills or rent. I can’t wait, actually. I guess there’s nothing to do but go out and face this hateful city, though, and try to make amends with her. I better get moving…

The One About The Murder

13 Jul

In 1994, just after high school graduation, I got a job working as a server at a very popular family-run restaurant in Paducah, Kentucky. I remember being trained by a guy named Tim, who had feathered blonde hair and reeked of cigarette smoke and CK One.  The restaurant – the Holman House – was situated in the lower lobby of the Cobb Hotel in Paducah. It was a tiny place with maybe 30 tables, but it was always busy and, according to Tim, they could make great tips.

Not long after being hired, the restaurant moved to a brand new location on a busy street closer to the mall. The new building would have three separate dining rooms and a huge banquet dining area that could be closed off for private parties. One dining room – the Paducah Room – was full of old photos of old downtown Paducah as well as a couple of quilts on the walls. (Paducah is one of the quilting capitols of the world and is home to the American Quilter’s Society’s annual Quilt Week in the spring). The smallest dining room was called the Garden Room and featured regular tables as well as a few rectangular four-top tables with porch swings for seating. I don’t remember the name of the third dining room, but it was the biggest and, honestly, had the least amount of personality.

The Holman House had been a Paducah institution for years before I started working there. It was owned and run by Bob Holman and his wife, Linda. Bob cooked and she made the desserts. The restaurant was known for its amazing pies, and people would literally line up for one of Linda’s Peaches ‘N Cream pies, which was only available seasonally. When the restaurant moved to the larger facility, their daughter Bobbi Jo and her husband, Neil, bought the place, though Bob and his wife continued to work in the kitchen. Bobbi’s sister, Regina, did the accounting. It was quite the family affair.

Bobbi’s background was in interior design and, even though she’d grown up around the restaurant business, she didn’t really seem to have a good grasp on how to run the business. Instead she ran it with an iron fist. It was quite obvious that she was insecure in her position as a leader – she constantly was looking over her shoulder, thinking that none of us respected her, which, of course, we didn’t because she was such a bitch. Her husband, however, made her look like a pussy cat. Neil wasn’t around much – he made it pretty obvious that the restaurant was Bobbi’s thing – and I’m sure he enjoyed the time it afforded him away from his wife. Rumors were always flying around the restaurant that he had been caught cheating on her again, and when we’d go back into the office after a shift to settle our money, it’d be full of flowers and her eyes would be puffy. Looking back, I should have felt sorry for her, but I couldn’t get past how cold and greedy she seemed. Well…they both seemed.

From the time it opened, the new restaurant did amazing business. We were always busy. We offered full menu service as well as an all-you-can-eat buffet, which was situated between the kitchen and the Paducah and Garden rooms. I can’t tell you how many chicken breasts accidentally ended up on my tray as I passed the buffet on my way to the server’s station in the Paducah Room or how many pieces of French Silk or Peaches ‘n Cream pie I accidentally plated upside down, thus making it unservable. Oops! Guess I’ll have to eat that… We also served hot rolls at each table, complete with four different types of butter: regular, orange (with bits of orange rind mixed in), strawberry and cinnamon. Between the au jus from the prime rib, the barbeque sauce from the ribs they served on the buffet and the butter we had to dip by hand for each table, I would come home completely covered in whatever we were serving that night because we also had to bus our own tables. One summer, Bobbi decided we needed to change from the long-sleeved white button-down shirts to embroidered coral pink polos, for which we had to pay $30 each.

Christmas at the Holman House was magical. And insane. Bobbi would go crazy with decorations (that was her forte, you know). One night we’d leave the restaurant and return the next day to find twenty-five or thirty giant Christmas trees, fully decorated, in every corner of the restaurant. There were little twinkle lights wrapped around the grapevines hanging from the ceiling. It was beautiful – and over the top. And you couldn’t get a table. We’d have waits over an hour long for dinner during the week, and people would specifically ask to be seated in the swings in the garden room, so their wait could be up to two hours. And they waited!! I remember thinking, “No prime rib in the world is worth waiting two hours just to sit in a swing and get motion sickness at dinner.”

One night I was serving a huge Christmas banquet with three other servers. It was the first of three banquets we would be working that night, so we had to get them in and out as quickly as possible. It was a corporate Christmas dinner, and when it came time to pay, the owner of the company saw that the automatic gratuity was around $250 to be split between the four of us. Out of the goodness of his heart, he added to the gratuity to make it an even $400 so that each of us could take home $100. Obviously we were all thrilled. All of us but Bobbi.

When we came into the office at the end of the night to check out, we were told that we would receive only the gratuity that had originally been agreed upon and that the additional gratuity would be absorbed by the restaurant. We were all livid. Luckily our night manager, Kathy, who had been with the restaurant since she’d been a server there 10 years earlier, was able to talk Bobbi into letting us keep our entire tip. She wasn’t happy about it, but she finally consented.

I was at Paducah Community College at the time, and my work and studies didn’t go well together. Kathy thought it was a good idea to move me up front to be a host, which required less time doing prep work and cleanup than serving, but I was allowed to continue to serve on weekends and during busy seasons. I was fine with that. It got me away from Bobbi, who had already told me she wasn’t happy with the work I was doing. She said school was getting in the way of my work. I thought, “That’s as it should be, isn’t it?!”

On the morning of July 17, 1996 – my day off, as I remember it – I woke to find both of my parents hovering over my bed, one on each side of me. My Dad was trying to wake me up. I thought perhaps I’d been called into work, but they told me no – I wouldn’t be going into work that day. Or perhaps for a long time after that. And then my Mom turned on the radio. Bobbi Jo had been found the night before, dead in her bathtub…strangled by a telephone cord.

What?!

The restaurant was closed for two days, I think. The staff was called in the second day for a meeting and to be interviewed by the police. The majority of the staff immediately suspected Neil had something to do with it, but…Neil had been the one to find her. Apparently, someone had entered their home while Neil and their 4-year old son and Bobbi’s nephew were out. Bobbi had always said that her worst nightmare was someone breaking into their house, so they’d had a security system installed, but for some reason that night it didn’t go off. According to what I heard, a struggle began in the kitchen. I was told a glass maple syrup bottle had been broken, and the newspapers disclosed that Bobbi had been hit on the head with a blunt object. A fingernail was found in the wall leading up the stairs, so apparently the struggle continued up there and finally she was strangled with the telephone cord from her bedroom and left slumped over the bathtub. When Neil and the two boys got home, he found her. Their six month old baby was in the next room, unharmed.

We were told that we could go to the visitation at the funeral home in small groups, in shifts. When I got there, Neil was standing next to the closed casket, stoney-faced and despondent. He was on tranquilizers, I was told. As I shook his hand and gave my condolences, I kept thinking, “You killed her. I know you had something to do with it.” The next day at the funeral, the restaurant staff all sat together in a group in the back of the church. As Neil got up to read a letter he’d written on behalf of their two children to their mother, we collectively rolled our eyes and kept our heads low. We were not able to attend the burial because the restaurant was scheduled to open for lunch at 3:00 and we had silverware to roll. Yes, you read that correctly – we were open the day of our owner’s funeral.

I continued to work at the Holman House for a few months after Bobbi’s murder. By that time, I was preparing to go to Murray State University, which was a 45-minute commute from Paducah, so I wasn’t able to work as much. I heard through the grapevine that in June 1999, Neil was sentenced to 12 years in prison for conspiracy to murder Bobbi. He was alleged to have paid a local hairdresser $50,000 to have someone kill her. In April 1999, the hairdresser was also sentenced to 10 years in prison for murder conspiracy for her role in the plot to murder Bobbi. She claims she gave the $50,000 to someone else who kept the money but never carried out the crime. The actual murderer has yet to be identified and the case is still unsolved almost 20 years later. The case was even featured in the “Paducah: Cruel Summer” episode of City Confidential in 2002.

What strikes me today, looking back on the whole ordeal, is that Bobbi Jo was only 35 when she was killed. She seemed so much older to me then, but…I’m now a year older than she was when she died. I didn’t like the woman, but I certainly didn’t think she deserved what she got. It’s sad to me that they still haven’t found out who did the deed. I can’t imagine what it must be like for her family to not have that closure, or what it must be like for Bobbi and Neil’s kids, to know that their Dad paid someone to have their Mom killed.

The Holman House is now a small cafeteria in Paducah. From what I understand from friends, it still does good business and is still run by Bob and Regina. Working there was certainly an education for me, and it has turned me off of the whole restaurant business. I know what goes on in the kitchen. I know what goes on in the server’s stations. I know what happens when you piss people off. You get spit in your food. Or you get killed.

cards

Cream Of The Crop, Tip Of The Top, It’s Mary Poppins, And There We Stop!

12 Jul

Greetings from Kansas City (still here…) where the temperature has significantly dropped since my last entry. It’s a cool 86° – a full 20° cooler than it was two days ago when we opened the show. I’m still looking forward to temperatures in the 60’s, but I’ll take this for now.

Today while I was trolling Facebook I came across a link for the first trailer to be released for Disney’s upcoming “Saving Mr. Banks.” The film centers around P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) – the author of the Mary Poppins books – and Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) struggle to get her to release the rights and to approve the production of the film, which would go on to earn 13 Academy Award nominations and 5 wins, including Best Actress in a Leading Role for Julie Andrews.

“Mary Poppins” is maybe the first movie I remember actually seeing in the theater (or at least it’s the one I’ve been thinking I saw for 30 years). In the late 70’s/early 80’s, we didn’t have VCRs or DVD/BluRay players yet, so we didn’t watch movies at home unless they were on TV. I suppose it’s possible that “Mary Poppins” had been broadcast, but I specifically remember seeing it at the Showcase Cinemas on Bardstown Road in Louisville. The way I remember it, the movie was cut short because of a tornado warning, and we were all sent home to hide in our bathtubs. That’s my first real recollection of going to the movies – a tornado coming through town. It’s a wonder I ever set foot in a movie theater again!

I feel like I must have seen “Mary Poppins” before then, though, because from as far back as I can remember, my family has told me that I was always hopping off the ledge of my grandparent’s fireplace with an umbrella in my hand, claiming to be Mary Poppins. I also liked to pretend I was C3-PO and R2-D2, but I couldn’t tell you the first time I saw “Star Wars,” either.

Image

“Mousercise” was one of my favorite LPs as a kid.

Back in the day when we had record players, I had a huge collection of albums for a 5-year old. I had all sorts of Disney-related storytelling albums and “Disco Mickey Mouse” and “Mousercise.” I also had Barry Manilow, Olivia Newton-John and I’d borrow my Mom’s Motown records sometimes, too. But I mostly listened to those Disney albums. I knew every word to every song – “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah,” “It’s A Small World,” “When You Wish Upon A Star,” “Lavender Blue (Dilly-Dilly).” When we moved to England, they had something we didn’t have in the States yet – something called Picture Disc. It was a clear album with pictures sandwiched between the two sides, and on the record was the full story and songs of whatever you were listening to – “The Fox and the Hound,” “Lady and the Tramp,” and my favorite – “Mary Poppins.” I would listen to it for hours on end. Even today, when I’m feeling down and need a pick-me-up, “Mary Poppins” is usually my first choice to lift my spirits.

Image

I knew every word of this “Mary Poppins” Picture Disc LP.

I don’t know what the connection is for me. Perhaps it’s just the nostalgia – maybe it takes me back to being a child again. Maybe it’s Julie Andrews. She can do no wrong in my book. Maybe it’s the magic. Who wouldn’t want to slide up banisters and leap into chalk drawings and have a tea party on the ceiling? What I wouldn’t given even now to just snap my fingers and make my room clean itself. I think it’s a combination of all of those things, I guess. Whatever it is, Mary Poppins – the movie and Mr. Disney’s vision of the character – mean a great deal to me.

A few months ago, our tour was in Costa Mesa, California, just a few miles from Disneyland in Anaheim. My good friends Tom and Anthony live in San Diego and they have annual passes to Disneyland, so I was lucky that they were able to drive up and spend two days with me at the park. It was my first time at Disneyland or California Adventure, though certainly not my first time at a Disney park. I had been to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea when I was in Japan, and back in the mid-80’s, my grandparents took me to Disney World, back when there was only the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. Yeah, I’m old school.

Me with Bianca (of "The Rescuers") at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

Me with Bianca (of “The Rescuers”) at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

While we were in Disneyland, Tom and Anthony – two of the biggest Disnerds I’ve ever met – were talking about the changes they made to the park when the film “Saving Mr. Banks” was being shot on location. Tom pulled up some pictures on his phone and they were was really remarkable. The old character costumes had been pulled out and dusted off, some of the colors had changed, the guests were all dressed in their best early 60‘s clothes (Side note: If people really did wear dresses and long pants to Disneyland, I can’t imagine what Uncle Walt would think about what people wear to the park today), but it was still Disneyland.

When the Broadway production of Mary Poppins opened in 2006, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a press event at the New Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, where Poppins was going to move in when The Lion King moved to the Minskoff Theatre. It was a big to-do for industry folks, introduced by the President of Disney Theatricals, Thomas Schumacher. The writers of the new material for the show, George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, came out and sang through a couple of the new pieces and then, as a surprise, the surviving composer of the film score, Richard Sherman, was introduced and he sang through a few of the original songs and told one or two short anecdotes about his involvement with the film and the new stage production. Just as we thought the event was ending, a curtain raised up and a full orchestra was onstage playing a suite of music from “Mary Poppins.” It was so beautiful, and I won’t mind admitting that I got a little choked up. On our way out the door, Disney one-upped themselves by giving each of us a Mary Poppins umbrella, complete with a parrot head handle. It was maybe the most amazing piece of merchandising I’ve ever seen. Sadly, I have no idea where that umbrella is now.

As a child, I believed there was magic in that umbrella. Even after 12 years of living in New York, which is enough to make anyone jaded, I still do. Watching Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke – bad Cockney accent and all – dancing through cartoon farmyards still makes me think, “How did they do that?!” “Step In Time” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (or “dociousaliexpiisticfragilcalirupus” backwards (kind of), but that’s going a bit too far, don’t you think?) take me back to a time when I wanted to recreate those numbers step by step on a stage for people to enjoy as much as I did. “Stay Awake” still gives me that melancholy feeling of knowing it’s time to go to bed, even though you don’t want to. And watching Mary Poppins fly off into the sunset always makes me feel a little bit as if she’s leaving me – not the Banks children. What a comfort to know that I can always hit PLAY and there she’ll be again, sitting in that cloud, powdering her nose.

Needless to say, I am very excited about “Saving Mr. Banks.” I’ll be in Costa Mesa again the week it opens. If there’s anything happening at Disneyland to celebrate the premiere, I plan to find a way to be there. Now get off your computer and go fly a kite!

And for those of you who are keeping up: I’m now 93 hours diet soda free. Woohoo!

Jesus, Be A Raindrop. Or Central Air.

10 Jul
Image

A view of the audience and the stage from the back of the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City, MO. My booth is under the white tent in the lower left hand corner.

Greetings from my air conditioned hotel room in Kansas City, MO. Tonight was our opening night at the Starlight Theatre, which is an 8,000-seat outdoor amphitheater just south of downtown Kansas City. I had my idea of what the place was going to look like based on my experiences of working in outdoor theatre in Louisville and Tulsa, but I was pleasantly surprised by the facility. What surprised me most was the large garage door that actually closed off the stage, allowing it to remain air conditioned until the curtain/garage door went up for the top of the show. Good for the cast and crew. I had to sweat it out on the concrete.

I arrived at the theatre today at 4:45 in the afternoon. At that point, our crew had been working for about 10, maybe 12 hours, loading the show in, so I really shouldn’t complain. I did my load-in as usual, only outside in the heat under a tent in an area with absolutely no ventilation. That’s a good thing for the display set-up. No wind means there’s no chance that giant steel plates set up behind me will get blown over. It also means no breeze for me.

Image

The temperature when I arrived at the theatre was about 100°F. The heat index was right at 106°F. I set up my booth as quickly and efficiently as I could. I’ve been doing this almost every week for six months, so it doesn’t take very long, but in such extreme heat, I was moving much slower than usual. Once the booth was set up, I went backstage into the air conditioned hallway to count in the three boxes that were delivered to me. There wasn’t much workspace back there, and I was so hot and sweaty…I was really starting to get grouchy. I could also feel that my skin was hot, which I knew was a sign that my body temperature was getting too high, so I slowed down, took a moment to drink some water and, once I’d cooled off sufficiently, I went back out to my booth and started folding the stacks of sweatshirts that I needed to add to my booth. And by “fold,” I mean “drip sweat all over.”

Image

Our show started at 8pm. The sun didn’t go down until about 9:00. That made the lighting and projection designs obsolete for three quarters of the first act. I was really concerned for the cast tonight, knowing how hot it really was out there…seeing them dancing full-out in coats and jackets and jeans. Apparently some of the girls backstage were taking bets on who would pass out first. Even though they were joking about it, I know each of them were fully aware of how dangerous it could have been for them tonight. Still, they all gave a wonderful show.

After the performance, and after everyone had gone home, I had to count my inventory and money as I normally do, and then I had to tear down my entire set-up and roll it back inside, just in case it rains or to protect it from being blown over by the wind. That means tomorrow I have to go back and set it all back up again. It’s only supposed to be 90° tomorrow. “Only.”

I’m sure most of you have seen this video floating around Facebook or YouTube, but it pretty much sums up exactly how I felt tonight, dripping with sweat and unable to get any relief. I wanted to slit somebody’s throat. I just didn’t have the patience to deal with the heat and stupid people. Where the hell is Moses?

I’d Like To Buy The World A Diet Coke…And Drink The Whole Thing!

9 Jul

Greetings from American Airlines Flight something-or-other to Kansas City, Missouri. I’m 33,000 feet in the air, looking down over the great state of Oklahoma, fighting the urge to fall asleep. I don’t like to sleep in public because I know I snore and it embarrasses me. So I finished an episode of “Dallas” here I am, blogging and listening to Hans Zimmer’s re-worked “William Tell Overture” from the new “Lone Ranger” movie. The movie isn’t anything to write home about, but the 12-minute action sequence on the trains is pretty breathtaking.

As we leave Texas today, I begin my last week with Flashdance the Musical. It doesn’t seem possible to me that more than six months have passed already, and yet it feels like I’ve spent the last decade lugging my suitcases from hotel to hotel. I have worked all 188 performances to date, never missing one show (I can’t – I don’t have a replacement!) and, miraculously, without having killed anyone. Yet. There are still six performances left before I fly back to New York. There’s still time…

I’m nervous about Kansas City. The performance venue is a huge outdoor amphitheater. I’ve performed outdoors before. It’s hard in such brutal heat (tomorrow there is a heat advisory until 7pm – one hour before curtain), and I worry about the cast of this show. I’ve also heard rumor that I might have to move my entire booth and display inside at the end of each performance, which will not make me very happy. The good thing about outdoor theatre, though, is that matinees are impossible. It’s too hot and lights and projections don’t work in the daylight, so it will be a short week for us. That’s a very good thing.

I’ve started the end-of-tour process of repacking to go home. My suitcases were dangerously close to being overweight, so I had to box up a few things, including the cowboy boots that I got in Nashville and some of my heavier, cold-weather clothes, and I’ll ship those home to my parents’ house before I leave Kansas City. I’ve started cleaning up and cleaning out the booth. And I’ve started arranging my 3-week stay in New York. I found a sublet in Brooklyn through August 5, at which point I’ll go home to Kentucky to visit my family for a few days before I fly off to Denver to work on my next project.

(I’m writing to you now from the hotel in Kansas City, where I’m watching one my least favorite people on TV – Guy Fieri of the Food Network). Tonight I had a rather unspectacular dinner at a local KC establishment called Bar Louie. I had the 3-cheese mac and cheese with grilled chicken, which was somehow entirely flavor-free. I also had an unsweetened iced tea. Now, that I had iced tea is not really a big thing – I am southern, after all, but that I chose that over a diet soda is a big deal.

The other day, between shows, a few cast members and I were talking about weight and diet. It got me thinking, “Maybe I could give up just one thing. Just for a week. Just to see how it makes me feel.” So I have decided to give up diet soda for a week. Just as a test. I want to see if I feel any less puffy. Bloated. Gassy. Whatever you want to call it. I also want to get myself better hydrated since we’re going to be out in the heat so much this week. I’m also curious to see if my energy level changes the way some people have told me it will. We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

EDIT: I was just informed that Bar Louie’s is not, in fact, a Kansas City thing. It’s a chain restaurant! Who knew?! Color me not impressed.

The One About the FBI

6 Jul

I almost can’t believe it, but I’ve been blogging for nearly a month now. I try my best to write something of worth every day, but sometimes time just doesn’t allow for it and, honestly, sometimes I just don’t feel inspired to write anything. But I have noticed over the past few weeks that I have veered away from the format that I had originally intended for this collection of stories. It’s become less about my interactions with patrons and more about myself and my experiences…and that’s ok, I think. People seem to be entertained and sometimes even touched by some of the things I’ve written, and that makes me feel good.

I don’t want to blow my wad too early in this process, but there is one whopping story that I want to tell, but I feel I need to preface it. The story I am about to tell is 100% true and is told only from my perspective. I will not divulge names for the sake of others’ privacy because it is not my intention to do harm by telling this story. I don’t want to damage anyone’s reputation or make their lives harder for them in the future. They’ve already done that to themselves, in my opinion, but I don’t wish to make things worse. This is my story to tell. I cannot tell anyone else’s. This is an account of what happened to me and how it affected me and the people around me.

In the spring of 2008, things were not so great in my living situation. One of my roommates had been having some serious difficulties paying his rent and hadn’t told me or our other roommate. We found out through the landlady, who was getting close to evicting us. We had just been through two rounds of battling a bedbug infestation in the apartment as well as mice. I was done with it. I couldn’t stand it any longer.

My friend and former co-worker, T_______, knew that I was miserable and one day came to me and said, “You know, my roommate and I have a third bedroom in our apartment that we just use for storage. I know you want a new place to stay, and the extra money would help me and C_______, so…why don’t you move into our place?” The rent was to be $550 a month including all utilities, access to a backyard, free 24-hour laundry in the basement and the apartment was within 2 blocks of 3 different trains. It was too good to be true! I moved in and everything was great. C_________ worked out of town a lot, so it was usually just me and T_________. I worked nights and weekends and he worked days, so we rarely saw each other enough to get on each other’s nerves. He and I had been friends for almost 10 years at that point, and things were really good.

In November 2009, just a couple of days before my 33rd birthday, I found out I booked a tour. I was so thrilled to finally have booked another job, even though it was yet another children’s theatre tour and would take me out of New York for over six months. It was an Equity contract, and under Equity rules, if I worked 22 weeks under contract, I would become eligible to sign up for the Union’s health insurance for a year. I hadn’t had insurance in years, so I knew my parents would be as thrilled as I was. I was hired to play several roles – including a lunch lady named Gladys Gutzman – in the national tour of Junie B. Jones, which was based on the children’s book series by Barbara Park. I had never heard of the books, but Junie B. was one of Theatreworks USA’s most popular tours, so I figured they must be pretty good.

When I told T________ I had booked the job, I asked him about subletting my room. He had been an actor years ago, so I figured he would understand and be OK with it. After all, I was only going to be making $457 a week before taxes and union fees and he had been the one to tell me over and over again, “You go on tour to make money.” I was surprised when he said no. He told me he didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of a stranger in his house, especially around all of his electronics and computers. In a rare moment of chutzpah, I told him that I didn’t think that was fair and I wasn’t comfortable paying rent while I was away for a room I wasn’t going to be in. He surprised me further by offering to pay $150 of my rent every month to help me save some cash.

After six months on the road with Junie B., I was ready to come home. It had worn or, more accurately, beaten me down and I needed to come home to recharge and heal, physically and mentally. I was so thrilled to be in my own bed and to be able to cook my own food and to see my friends again. It was great to be home.

Almost two months to the day after my return to New York – it was Thursday, September 10 – at 6:00 a.m., I woke to the sound of someone pounding on our apartment door, screaming “EVERYONE IN APARTMENT ONE, GET OUT! GET OUT! GET OUT!” It was my day off, so I had been up until almost 3:00 that morning. I had no idea what time it was or what was going on, but I threw on my robe and ran out to the front door, thinking the building was on fire. The pounding and shouting continued as T________ slowly walked out of his room, putting on shorts and a t-shirt. I opened the door to find six FBI agents at our door with their guns and flashlights pointed at me and a battering ram ready to knock the door in had we not answered. They pulled us both out into the hallway and frisked us as other agents went into our apartment – my apartment – and searched each of our rooms, shouting “CLEAR!,” “CLEAR!,” “CLEAR!” In my panic and confusion, I still thought to myself, “This is a mistake! They’re here for the guy on the third floor who T________ said may be dealing drugs. They have the wrong apartment!”

After they cleared the apartment, they brought us both into the living room and sat us down as federal agents started scouring the living room. One of the agents showed us a search warrant, told us they were from the Computer Crimes Department of the FBI and asked if we knew why they were there. My first thought was, “I’ve been stealing internet from our neighbor and they’ve come for me!” That wasn’t the case. The agent told us that they had traced an IP address, a router number and a screen name to someone in our apartment in connection with a child pornography investigation. I knew then that they weren’t there for me, but I still thought they were making a mistake. “That’s crazy! They’ve got the wrong place!,” I thought…

An agent took me into my room and had me sit on the bed. My room was in complete disarray, with suitcases and clothes still all over the floor that I hadn’t put away from tour. “Mom would die if she knew they were here seeing this,” I thought. “If I’d known they were coming, I’d have cleaned up.” Strange, the things you think under duress.

I wasn’t allowed to touch anything in my room. I couldn’t touch my phone, call or text anyone. I had an armed FBI agent at my side for the entire three hours they were in my house. I was still in my robe and underwear, and I felt utterly exposed – literally and figuratively.

An agent came into my room, shutting the door behind her. She had a manila folder in her hand and I could see that my name and social security number were written on the tab.

“You’re Jason?,” she asked.

I don’t know why I was surprised that she knew who I was. She was the FBI, for goodness’ sake – it was her job to know everything about me. But it did surprise me. And it scared me. Even though I knew I had nothing to hide and had done nothing wrong, a million scenarios started running through my head. What if they did find something? I had come home from tour to find all sorts of random things in my room – things that T_______ had put into my room to get out of the way: a potted plant, an old stereo receiver… What else might have been put in my room while I was away without my knowing it? What were they going to find?

The female agent was much kinder than I expected her to be. She could tell I was scared and that I clearly had no idea what was going on, but she had a job to do. She asked me a lot of questions not just about myself, but also about my roommates. C________ was out of town working, and I told her that I had just been on the road myself for 6 months, which was fairly easy to prove. Thinking back on it, though, I know now that they already knew. She asked me about my laptop as well as the desktop PC I had on my desk. That computer had blown up months before in a thunderstorm and wouldn’t turn on anymore. I had kept it with the idea of taking it in to have the hard drive removed so I could retrieve all my tax documents and photos and things off it, but I never got around to it. They could tell from the layer of dust on it, though, that it hadn’t been used in a very long time. (Sorry, Mom!)

I told her that I had only ever been able to use my laptop in the living room if I wanted to connect to the internet. That was the only room in the apartment where I could connect to our neighbor’s open network. T_________ had given me his internet password, but I never seemed to be able to connect using his router, and he turned it off at night when he went to bed, anyway. I had never understood that before, but in light of the circumstances, things started to fall into place. I explained to her that he didn’t want me to sublet my apartment while I was away because he was worried about his electronic equipment. I didn’t want to believe that my friend – one of my closest friends – was involved in what they were saying, but I also was in such an emotional state that I couldn’t not tell them things that suddenly started to seem to be connected.

She asked me where my laptop was and I told her it was on the end table next to the sofa in the living room where it always was. She then asked me if I thought it a good idea to leave my laptop laying around where other people could use it. I started panicking again. What were they going to find? She told me she would need to do a search of the files on my computer and that she’d be back. She left me and my armed guard in silence in my room. I don’t know why, but I started making small talk. “Do you do this sort of thing all the time?” “How do these things usually end?” “Do you like your job?” What was I doing?!? I needed to pee. My guard stuck his head out into the hallway where I could see people walking by with boxes full of electronics and media. He came back in and said they needed a second before he could walk me down to the bathroom. They had to move T_________ to the kitchen so that we wouldn’t see each other.

The guard stood outside the bathroom door as I urinated. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “Why is this happening? What have I done to deserve this? What is going to happen to me?” At that point, I wasn’t terribly concerned about T_______. It’s incredible how quickly your emotions can shift in a situation like that. At first I was confused, then scared – terrified is more accurate, then incredibly sad and then I started getting angry. Angry at T_______ for doing whatever they thought he did to bring them there. Angry at myself for being in this situation. For trusting someone that much. Had I missed something? Surely there must have been some indication? But then again, if this were all just a mistake, then no – I wouldn’t have missed anything because there wouldn’t have been anything to miss. I splashed some cold water on my red, puffy eyes, blew my nose and headed back out into what looked like a scene from CSI.

My guard took me back to my room and sat me down again. The female agent, who was scanning my computer by then, popped her head in again and asked, with a big smile on her face, “Who are those two little girls you have pictures of? Are those your nieces?”

“They’re my cousins, actually.”

“Well, they’re beautiful. Does he know them?”

I immediately felt my face burn. Why would she ask that?? What had they found? What did she mean by that?! If anything happened to those girls… I started to sob.

A few minutes later, a second agent came in. He was tougher, and he had some hard-hitting questions he needed to ask. He reminded me that no piece of information was too insignificant. I told him everything I’d told the female agent and then he said they’d need to search my room. My guard took me into C________’s room, which had already been searched, and the interrogating agent came with us. He continued to question me as my room was searched. All my things, touched and handled by complete strangers. I felt like I needed a shower.

After my room was searched, they took me back and sat me down on the bed again. They were done with the search and interrogation. They were getting ready to leave.

“So…what happens now? Are you just going to leave him here?,” I asked.

“We only have a search warrant, not an arrest warrant. We have to go through all of the items we took today – all the computers, cameras, DVDs, CDs, everything – before we can determine if he should be arrested.”

“So, what do I do? What am I supposed to do? Keep living here with him as if nothing has happened?”

The female agent answered, “I would suggest you pack a bag and stay with a friend tonight and make a decision tomorrow, after you’ve had some time to think.”

The male agent broke in, “And I would highly suggest you don’t discuss this with him in any way. If he’s arrested, you don’t want to know anymore than you already do.”

And then they were gone, just as quickly as they’d come.

I grabbed my towel and headed down the hall back to the bathroom. I needed a shower and I needed to get out of there. T________ and I crossed paths and he stopped, saying, “You know me…you know I’m not a dirty old man.” I responded, “You know…the SIX FBI agents that were just in my house told me not to talk about this with you. I think I’ll listen to them.” I locked myself in the bathroom and cried the whole time I was in the shower.

When I got back to my room, my phone was still on my nightstand. I picked it up and sent out a mass text to my closest friends, being careful not to contact anyone who was a mutual friend of mine and T_________ : If anyone was awake, I needed to talk to someone right away. My friend Tony was the first to respond. He called me and I told him what had just happened. I think he didn’t know what to do with all that information. I was starting to realize that there was a distinct possibility that people who didn’t know me better might think me guilty by association and that even my friends might not want to get too involved.

My friends Kim and Karyn texted me. We agreed to meet for breakfast at Renaissance Diner on 9th Avenue to talk it out. They immediately offered their apartment as a crash pad for as long as I needed it. We spent the next few hours walking around Manhattan. I remember we went to the Bed, Bath and Beyond at Lincoln Center, which is where I called my Dad to tell him what had happened. Retelling the story, I started hyperventilating and crying on the street. He kind of calmed me down and Kim and Karyn took me home to their place in Washington Heights. They blew up an air mattress in the living room and let me take a nap. I was emotionally drained and hadn’t had much sleep the night before, so I slept until late in the afternoon, at which point I had to think about heading home to pack a bag.

I had already decided I was moving out. I couldn’t stay there, whether he was guilty or not. I felt violated. Strangers had forced their way into my home and had rummaged through my things. They had been following me. Tracking me like a criminal, even though I had done nothing wrong. He brought them there. He put me in that position. Whatever he had been doing, it was enough to bring the FBI into my house, and I couldn’t justify continuing to live there.

I was terrified to go home. I was scared of seeing him. I was even more scared of finding him dead somewhere in our apartment. T_______  at the time was a short, quirky 50-something year old man. If he was found guilty of something like this, his life would be over. He’d be a prime target for any big, burly man in a Federal prison, and child molesters and pornographers are the lowest of the low on the prison totem pole. I fully expected to find him dead when I got home. So I didn’t go home – I went to Mamma Mia!, where I knew many of my friends would be at work.

When I got there, I sat down in the small closet we called an office and told my friends what had happened. I was stunned. Shocked. I couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of my mouth, but it had happened! My friends couldn’t believe it, either. Intermission came, so I had to face it: It was time to go back there.

Before I got on the subway to go home, I called my parents to check in with them. I hadn’t talked to my Mom yet. My Dad answered the phone and I told him I was alright, though I was starting to get choked up again. My Mom got on the phone and asked me if I was alright. I said I was. Then she said, “It scared you, didn’t it?,” and I fell apart, right on the corner of 49th and 7th Avenue. When I told her I was worried about going home, she suggested I call a friend to come with me, so I did. I called several. No one was available, and one just flat out said he didn’t want to because he had an audition the next morning and he needed to get to bed.

So I went home, alone, scared to death of what I might find there. I think I might have been on the phone with someone – I can’t remember who – just to help calm my nerves. When I walked in, I found T________ sitting in the living room watching a movie and completely drunk.

I went straight to my room and started packing a small suitcase. I got my things from the bathroom and, as I was heading into the kitchen to grab some of my groceries to take with me, he came in and wanted to talk about it. He started again with, “You know I’m not a dirty old man,” and I turned to him and said, “You know, I think that’s exactly what a dirty old man who’s been caught would say.” From that point, I can’t remember what I said to him, really, but I do know I ripped him a new asshole, which is completely out of character for me.

Even after all of that, he told me he wanted me to stay in the apartment – he needed my support and friendship because he couldn’t tell anyone else what had happened. I was the only one who knew, and he wanted it to stay that way. And, he later divulged, he needed me to keep paying my share of the rent because he needed every penny he had to pay for a defense lawyer. That wasn’t a good enough reason for me. I told him I was moving out and that I would leave my things in the apartment for as long as it took me to find a new place, rent free.

Kim and Karyn and their other two roommates let me stay with them for six weeks until I found a place that was nearly $300 a month more than what I’d been paying to live with T_______ and C_________, plus I had the added expense of laundry every week. I was suddenly 45 minutes from wherever I needed to go as opposed to 15 minutes, door-to-door. T_________ and I had only been in touch when I’d come by the apartment to pack, which I usually tried to do when he was at work. Once I found a place, I cut off all communication.

The day after they FBI came, I went into work at the marketing company where I was helping out part-time. They had a promotional tour out for a cell phone brand and one of their road managers was leaving for a week to go to a wedding. They asked if I would fly to Buffalo on Sunday to fill in for him. It meant a private hotel room, a private car and a week away from all that had happened at home. I said yes.

That night, I was updating the software on my iPhone. Midway through the restoration process, the phone froze and I got an error message. I couldn’t turn the phone on or off. It was just…dead. I took it to the Apple store on Saturday – I had to have my phone for work the next day – and I told the gentleman at the help desk about the error message I’d received. He had never heard of it and had to look it up.

“You’ve jailbroken your phone,” he said.

“I don’t know what that means,” I replied.

“You’ve put something on your phone that didn’t come from iTunes or the App Store. You have Apple Protection, so I’ll give you a new phone today, but if it happens again, you’re kinda screwed.”

My first thought was, “The FBI put a bug on my phone while I was out of my room. They’re tracking me. And now I have a new phone….a new phone that they can’t track! And I’m flying to Buffalo tomorrow – I’m leaving town! The FBI is going to show up at the airport and tackle me in the terminal because they’re going to think I’m trying to flee!”

I called my Dad, freaking out. He told me I needed to calm down. I tried, but I couldn’t sleep that night. Of course nothing happened at the airport, but I do still think the FBI put something on my phone. The paranoia that set in in the few weeks following their visit was unreal. I constantly felt I was being watched…followed…spied upon.

I never mentioned what had happened to any of our mutual friends. Not once. I don’t know what T_______ told people when I moved out. I have always been curious to know what reason he came up with. C_________ emailed me about two months after the Incident to tell me he finally knew why I’d left. It took two months for T________ to tell him. In the two and a half years since I moved out, I have lived in four apartments and countless hotels. I have panic attacks when people ring the doorbell or knock on the door – especially if I’m not expecting visitors. The sight of flashlights dancing across the floor take me back to the moment I opened that door and was blinded by the FBI’s flashlights. And the guns. One never forgets having six loaded guns pointed at one’s face. My therapist told me I had post traumatic stress disorder. That’s not an easy thing to hear, but with her help, I’m better now.

Last summer I ran into an old friend – a mutual friend – of T________’s and mine. He asked me, “So…have you talked to T________ lately, or heard about his…um…’trouble?’” I had never talked about The Incident with any of our mutual friends because I didn’t want to assume that he was guilty or spread vicious rumors about him that might turn out to be untrue. Even after all that had happened, I still cared enough to protect his name.

“‘Trouble?,’” I asked…

“Yeah…his, um…”trouble” with the law?”

“The FBI thing?,” I finally asked, and we both breathed a sigh of relief. We talked about it for a good half hour. I told him about that day, and finally my friend said, “Well, he’s been convicted. His sentencing is in a few weeks. He could face up to five years in federal prison and he’ll be listed as a registered sex offender. I thought you’d want to know.”

I felt such relief being able to talk to my friend about it. It wasn’t a secret anymore. Everything would become a matter of public record soon. I went home and got on Facebook and I simply posted, “For those friends who know the story of the Worst Roommate In History saga, let me tell you that it ends with him going to prison. For those of you who don’t know it, you’ll have to wait for my book.”

Within two days, eight of our mutual friends with whom we’d worked had defriended me. For what, I’m not sure. I never mentioned T______’s name. I never said where he worked or what he was convicted of doing. Even today, I don’t know what they got him for – possession, distribution, production…I have no idea, and I don’t care to know. But not one of those eight people – people whom I considered to be good friends – had reached out to me to make sure I was alright or to tell me they were going to defriend me and why. No explanations at all. It hurt me deeply.

I don’t take what happened lightly, and I worry about T_______ often. I wonder what his life will be like when he gets out of prison. I wonder where he’ll get a job, where he’ll live. I am afraid for him, being a convicted sex offender in a Federal prison. That does not mean, however, that I can turn a blind eye to what he was convicted of being a part. I miss my friend. I grieved for him for a long time.

I recently made the decision to leave New York City. I won’t lie – the memory of this experience was a huge contributor to that decision. It’s difficult to escape it. My view of New York changed drastically that day. Suddenly I felt like a caged animal in a zoo, constantly being watched and unable to get away. But now it’s time to let that go and start a new life in a new city in a new apartment where I feel safe. It’s time to move on.