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|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)|
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The Making Of A Monster
By Gail Petersen
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Gail Petersen
All rights reserved.
I never knew the meaning of homesickness till I moved to Los Angeles. That feeling of yearning for everything familiar, from the way your mother's couch looks to the sun rising instead of setting over the water. A feeling that husbands and homes cannot make disappear. A feeling that makes you do desperate things.
I am thoroughly convinced that I would not be in the state I'm in now except for homesickness. After only two months in Los Angeles I was ready to run back home to New York and told Ben that. "This is the land of the friendless," I said, but he had already made friends at the computer job that brought us here, so it was not a valid point for him.
Ben made friends easily, while I was always lost on unfamiliar terrain. My husband was one of those people anyone could relate to. He knew how to tell a joke, how to give a compliment, how to put someone at ease. He was never at home with the darker side of life, had very few regrets, and could adapt to anything, even a place as foreign as Los Angeles.
"Once you start working," he said to me as we unpacked our pots and pans, "everything will be different. Just give this town a chance, at least a year, before we give up the five thousand bucks we spent moving here." Of course, it always comes down to financial reasons. People ask why a family stays living near Three Mile Island, or any nuclear power plant for that matter.... The answer's always money. You can never be sure the worst is going to happen, so rather than risk losing your home or your life savings, you stay and let disaster wash over you.
I felt disaster coming, but I could not be sure whether this premonition was really a sign from God or wishful thinking on my part. Even though I barely thought about heaven or hell anymore, after twelve years of Catholic school I was still subject to a twinge of religious conscience whenever things did not go right. But because Ben believed it was all in my mind and convinced my conscious self it was, too, all those dreams of the end of the world fell on deaf ears. It was only my unconscious self that still believed, and I would wake up in the middle of the night in terror, positive that an earthquake was about to tear our house down or that World War III had just begun.
One night, fresh from a dream that left me shaking, I actually called Kevin, my older brother, back in New York. It was 3:00 A.M. L.A. time, which made it 6:00 in the morning back east, so I thought I might be able to catch him before he left for work. The phone rang and rang until finally I heard his voice, low and breathless.
"It's me, Kate."
"Kate? What's wrong?"
I heard someone whisper in the background, his wife, Maddie. There was movement and the click of a light switch. "Are you all right? Is Ben all right?"
For a moment I was speechless, not even sure why I had called. Maybe I needed an answer only my family could provide. Maybe I just needed a connection with something familiar. But Kevin had been totally against our move to L.A. To him it was "an alien place populated by visitors from another dimension." So in the darkness of this other planet, which I now called my home, I found I could not admit defeat, not even to one of my own.
"I just miss you," I said.
Kevin laughed. "You pick a helluva time to tell me."
"Is it light there yet?"
"Almost. Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine. Really. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, too, Kate, but you did interrupt something."
"Oh, sorry." I realized my mistake. Kevin and Maddie's latest priority had been starting a family. "Well, I just wanted to say hi. I'll let you go."
"Okay. We'll be at Mom and Dad's for the ritual Sunday dinner. I'll talk to you then, Kate."
I hung up the phone and looked at Ben, whose snoring was audible even with the covers over his head. Almost sunrise in New York and still so many hours to go here before I saw the light again. Since I knew I would not fall back to sleep, I grabbed my Walkman and headed for the living room. I needed the distraction and comfort of music to separate me from the quiet menace of the night. I put the earphones on and pumped up the volume. It was the only way I could ever have it loud. After programming a computer all day, the last thing Ben wanted to hear was rock music blaring when he came home. So I confined my listening to the twilight hours when I was alone. Already the melody was soothing my nerves and relegating my nightmare to its proper place—only a dream.
But as I walked to the living room, I still checked the locks on the doors and windows. Even though I had only been dreaming, I wanted to make sure no real demons could find me before dawn.
It was at the beginning of July, our third month in L.A., that I finally started job hunting. I had made a million and one excuses before that. I didn't know the area, we still had unpacking to do, it was too hot. Finally I ran out of excuses, and the weight of boredom drove me out of the house and into an office-temps agency.
I knew how to type on a computer, and while I could not command the money Ben made with his ability to program, I was still in demand from all the businesses that needed someone to do the things no one else wanted to. The agency put me to work the next day, and that began the routine that would mark my numbered days of summer and sun in L.A. "I hate the routine of nine to five," I complained to Ben every morning as I dressed for work, although on the West Coast it was 8:00 to 5:00. I had been thunderstruck that Los Angeles did not subscribe to the thirty-five-hour work week that New York had, and felt it was just one more reason for me to long for the East Coast.
"If you hate routine so much," Ben had answered, "why don't you find a career for yourself so you won't have to go to work and just type." He had never been able to understand why a college graduate with a degree in English did not have a calling in life. For the last five years I had tried—first in advertising, then teaching, then publishing—but had gotten nowhere. With our move to L.A., I had finally given up and believed myself to be just one of the masses that made up our nondescript work force.
Being one of the masses now seems such a beautiful, peaceful thing, and the routine of the ordinary a dream to aspire to. There are still times I wish I could find the safety of that dream again, when I wish I could still wake up in the morning with Ben beside me and worry about what dress to wear to my job. Instead, in the nightmare my life is now, it's always night and nothing will ever be the same again.
As I went from one temp job to another, I ran into other people who were employed by the same agency or others just like it. Inevitably they were actors and actresses who had moved here from some other part of the country to compete in the world's hardest profession. They worked in between auditions and bit parts and always introduced themselves by their most famous role, specifying how many lines they had in their latest part and who their current agent was.
Ben thought all actors were idiots and masochists, that only a fool would want to give up every luxury in life to pay for such things as head shots and to waste valuable recreation time sitting for hours in a casting director's waiting room. In fact, he thought every aspect of the entertainment business was frivolous and inane. But as I Xeroxed and collated with them and entered data into an Apple computer next to them, I began to feel jealous of their commitment, camaraderie, and sense of purpose. They moved in a world that was larger than life. I began to envy their discussions of who was the best acting coach in town and their gossip of who was casting what and why. I became drawn into their unique world—a club, a secret society. And when I finally saw Marla, a temp from my agency with whom I had worked in several offices, starring in a Burger World commercial, I decided at that moment to give it a try. I decided I would ask Marla for a recommendation for a good acting class. At least, then I would have a purpose in life, a reason for being in sunny California.
Ben's reaction to my enrolling in Marla's acting class was predictable. He rolled his eyes in disgust but was secretly pleased I had found something to do, so I would stop complaining to him. His job had become even more demanding, and he never got home earlier than 8:00 or 9:00 at night. And once home, Ben would position himself in front of the TV and eat whatever snack food was available. I would sit across from him in the blue flowered chair and listen to him devour the corn chips one by one while the Santa Ana winds blew hot, dry air around our house and rattled our metal mailbox outside. I think it was on my first day of class that we stopped making love.
It took me an hour in traffic to reach Sandy Klein's acting workshop in West Hollywood, and I was nervous. What had possessed me to take an acting class with a bunch of strangers, I'll never know. But I had made up my mind, and there was no turning back. By the time I walked in, ten minutes late and overheated from the lack of air-conditioning in my car, Sandy was already debating the merits of The Method with his students. He brought the discussion to a halt as his tiny eyes met mine. "You must be Kate," he said, grabbing my hand and leading me to the stage. "You might as well start right now."
There were already five people in Sandy Klein's acting workshop, but he was willing to make it an even six on Marla's insistence and a check from me. I didn't want him to do me any favors, but since I had made up my mind to act, I was happy for the opportunity. Now, as I looked at Sandy's red suspenders, I wasn't so sure. I had no idea what went on in an acting class, but as with everything else in L.A., I learned the hard way.
My first lesson consisted of me telling the class about myself, with Sandy asking questions during the pauses. As I faced the darkness that hid the other four students, I found myself grateful that the fifth person seemed to be absent tonight and was missing the degradation I felt was impending. I began to compose my farewell excuses to Sandy as I spoke about myself:
"My name is Kate Davis, and I'm ... ah, twenty- seven years old and, ah ... I've only been in L.A. three months. I'm originally from New York and, ah ..."
"Why did you come to L.A., Kate?"
"I, ah, I came for a job, you know...."
"And why are you taking this class?"
That was a good question, but my mind was going blank. Panic was setting in. I could feel my arms held tensely against my sides and I could feel my feet aching to run. My haircut wasn't right. My clothes were too bland. Everyone in the class looked better than me. Obviously the stage would join the ranks of my failed attempts at advertising and teaching. I should have remembered how I hated to stand up in front of a class.
"Well, I thought I would like to try acting, you know, I met Marla at a job, and she was so enthusiastic, you know, I thought it would be a good thing to try."
Through all this I could hear some of my classmates sighing and yawning. I began to wish I had never even thought of acting, that I had never met Marla, that I had never come to California, that I was dead or at least unconscious for a while. I could already picture Ben asking me in a mocking tone, "So when is your next lesson?" and me having to explain I was not cut out for the exhibitionism of acting. I looked down and actually saw my toes twitching in my sneakers, moving even though I willed them to stop.
"Tell me some things you like, Kate."
"Ah, what do you mean?"
"Anything that you like, to do, to read, to own, to think about."
"Well, I like animals, and I like ice cream, and I like to read a lot, and I like to see movies, particularly old movies, like the ones from the thirties and the forties...."
"What is this, a video date?" I heard one guy mumble in the audience. That was the last straw. I calculated how many steps there were from the stage to the door. Only a few seconds in time and I could be out of there forever. I decided to make a break for it. But then the door opened, and the missing member of the class walked in and sat in the back of the darkness. I was starting to get angry now, at Sandy, at Marla, at myself, and even at the newcomer I had thought would be spared my foolish monologue.
"And I like to not have to work, and the way soda tastes when you're thirsty, and how quiet it is at three in the morning when most of the world is asleep, and I like to be alone sometimes so I can think, and I like New York during the day when everyone is rushing somewhere, and I like New York at night when everyone is still rushing somewhere but it's probably to a play or a concert or the opera. And I like La Bohème because the heroine dies tragically before the hero ever has a chance to fall out of love with her."
I stopped, surprised at myself, and realized the room had grown quiet. As I stared into the darkness, I thought I could see the glimmer of two eyes shining at me. I took that as a sign of encouragement.
"And what are you afraid of, Kate?"
"I'm afraid of this class."
Everyone laughed sympathetically.
"I'm afraid of spiders and rats, and I'm afraid of being alone for too long, and I'm afraid of serial killers, rapists, and the possibility of aliens. And I'm afraid of going crazy and never accomplishing anything. I'm afraid that I really do have a calling in life but will never be able to figure out what it is. And I'm afraid that there is no heaven or hell, only nothingness. And I'm afraid of dying because I know it will hurt and because there are so many things I won't have done and will never have the opportunity to do again."
"Thank you, Kate, for sharing this with us," Sandy said, smiling. "You can come down now and take a seat. Carrie and Jim, you go up on stage and do your scene from A Thousand Clowns. The rest of you pay attention to their technique and let them know what they're doing wrong."
For a moment I could not move. I had been so lost in my own thoughts. But it felt good to be standing up there with everyone watching and listening. Even though I wasn't acting per se, I had captured their attention. For a moment the stage had been my home. "Okay," I said, as I found my way down the stairs and into the back of the small theater.
For most of my life I had believed in nothing. I had stopped accepting Santa Claus by age seven, and as soon as I could get away with it, about age twelve, I stopped going to church. Abstract concepts like pure good and pure evil seemed ridiculous to me at that time, and the idea of God as avenger as outdated as magic. But as I took my seat in Sandy Klein's little theater, in that little place called California, I found something bigger than life sitting in the next seat, which I thought was empty. I turned my head to look into the deepest green eyes I had ever seen. They belonged to the latecomer of our little theater class. "Hi," he said, his glance never wavering for a moment. "I'm Justin." And at that moment I believed in temptation.
If I had been as enlightened as I am now, I would have started praying right then and there. Instead, I experienced with pleasure the excitement of complete and total physical attraction, the kind they call love at first sight. In the weeks to come, insult would be added to injury as obsessive mental attraction also set in and I became a woman reeling from one emotion to another. But for now, all I wanted to do was sit next to this man for hours.
Carrie and Jim had finished their scene without me even knowing it, and Sandy was giving his closing speech of the day, something about persistence or perseverance or whatever. I had not moved my eyes from Justin's, and I really didn't care if the next earthquake started right then.
I was thoroughly and completely lost. I just didn't know it was for forever.
Suddenly everyone was standing up and saying good night. "I have to meet someone in ten minutes," Justin said, "or I'd join you all for coffee. Maybe next week we could talk for a while after class. I found your thoughts very interesting."
"That would be great," I said. As he turned and left, I felt an emptiness in the space he had just occupied.
"What was going on back there?" Marla asked good-naturedly. "You give a great performance and then just sit down and stare at Justin for the rest of the class."
"I was staring?" I said, just now realizing how foolish I must have looked to him and everyone else.
Excerpted from The Making Of A Monster by Gail Petersen. Copyright © 1993 Gail Petersen. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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