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Authors: Josh Stallings

All the Wild Children (22 page)

BOOK: All the Wild Children
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At Ravenswood Ms. Slaughter notices me in acting class and pushes me to be better, to read Kopit, Pinter, Beckett
,
Shakespeare
.
  She is young and hot in a Pam Grier - Foxy Brown kinda way.  Theater is the one class I don’t go to stoned.  I am one of a few White kids in the department. 

We do a ghetto version of Brecht’s
Three Penny Opera.
It is surprisingly relevant.  We take it to the local grammar school.  A kid tosses a Coke bottle at the stage.  After that, me and another large actor spend the play in the aisles, looking menacingly at third graders.  I take my new love of theater with me when I transfer to Paly.  I meet my life long friends Tad and Jochum in theater class.  I am never once cast as lead or co-lead in any play.  This doesn’t dissuade me one bit. 

 

I am 16.  I study acting at the Lee Strasberg Studio.  I learn the Method.  I live in a flophouse.  I drink cheap wine coolers.  My neighbors are old drunks and dope fiends.  I fit right in.  I get a ticket for jaywalking, I need to have an adult show up at court with me.  Grandma Stallings drives out fro
m
Palos Verdes, a forty minute trip.  She convinces the judge I’m ok living on my own and takes me to dinner in Chinatown.

Three months later Grandpa Stallings falls off a ladder and breaks his ankle.  I move into their house to help out.  I drive into Hollywood each day, at night after we eat dinner they play solitaire and we talk about anything and everything.  During the months I live there we cement a friendship that will last our lifetimes.  In them I see a life I want.  I see who they are as a couple.  Messy.  Tense.  Loving.  Real.  I want it for myself.  I discover a model for a partnership that works.

 

But I came to study acting I scream. 

 

I came to be a star I whisper.

 

I move back to Palo Alto to regroup.  Rethink… but not real hard.  I study acting at Foothill College.  I do street theater.  I touch one moment doing a scene fro
m
Equus
that is the real deal.  Calvin is Black and gay.  When we do scene work it is raw and real.  Maybe it’s sexual tension, maybe we just click, but when we do
Equus
the teacher, the class and both of us are left breathless.  This is one of maybe two or three times that I show an aptitude for acting that comes even close to my expectations.
 
 

 

I am 19.  It is September 1978.  I am keeping the dream alive.  Riding my Yamaha 360 south it never once occurs to me it won’t all go just as I plan.  I’m sleeping at the Pasadena YMCA until I get situated.  $16 a night.  It smells like mold.  It’s a creepy place, full of creepy men.  Moms said it was a good place to stay.  Moms is an eternal optimist.  I go to the American Academy of Dramatic Art.  I study at the library.  In the listening room I put Dolly Parton on to drown out the distractions.  I read Shakespeare while she sings Jolene.  I wait until late to return to my room. 

“When you were a boy, did you ever sleep in the same bed as your brother?”  He’s fifty plus and standing in the doorway of my room.  The hall light halos his thin hair.

“Yeah, we shared a bed until I was seven or eight.  Why?”

“At night did you ever roll over?”

“What?  I don’t know.” 

“Did he ever, you know, touch you, by accident?”  He's starting to perspire.

“What the fuck?”  I keep my voice down, it is late and I don’t want to get tossed out.

“It probably felt good, didn’t it?  It’
s
OK
,
I know it did.”

“You really need to leave.”  I’m on my feet now.

“It’s only natural.”

“Leave please.”  Finally with a last look he does.  I lock the door.  I push the dresser against it.  I don’t sleep.  I hate how he makes me feel.  I want to shower, but not here.

 

Saturday.  I find a cheap flat, a studio cottage, one room plain and simple.  At the Salvation Army I buy one pot for boiling water.  One bowl.  Pencils for chopsticks.  At night I lay in my tiny place and smile.  I’m not at the YMCA.  Life is good.

Within two weeks life gets complicated.  Jochum comes to L.A.  I had said he could stay with me.  His yellow beast is filled to the brim with clothing and a surfboard strapped to the roof.  I don’t thin
k
he even surfs
.
  But he knows how to roll California style. 

Jochum
i
s from Denmark.  Jochum is tall and blonde and they tell me he’s a hunk.  He is funny as shit.  He and I laugh our asses off, still.  We met in high school; he had a thing for my little sister.  Once we were playing a vicious game of football, prison rules, Longest Yard crap.  Tad clotheslines Brad who goes down hard spitting and coughing.  Brad knees Pitman and drops him.  It is bloody mayhem.  In a huddle Jochum looks at me, sincere as hell.  “Josh?”

“Yeah?”

“Why are we hurting each other?”  

“I have no idea.”  In that moment our friendship is sealed.  His mother follows him t
o
Pasadena
.
  Never asking, she moves in.  I wind up on the closet floor in a sleeping bag, no shit.  I wake up feeling out of sorts, can’t place myself, look up, jackets hang over my head.  I smell toast and eggs and sausage.  I stumble out of the closet.  Jochum’s mom is cooking breakfast on my hot plate.  Shhhhh.  She raises her finger to her lips and hushes me.  Her beloved son is still sleeping.  I reach for a piece of toast only to have my hand slapped.  Fuck it, I go to school.  Within a month I will move out.  Then Jochum will move out.  His mom will live in the cottage for a year.  Jochum and I will get an apartment with an actual bedroom.  Living large.

 

I’m going to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts because I didn’t get into the Neighborhood Playhouse in NY, the good school.  I still think I will make it as an actor.  I suck.  And I know it.  But every once in a while I break through to moments of brilliance.  In Royal Gambit I play Henry VIII.  The directo
r
berates me
.
  Tells me to be better.  Henry carries the play; it is about him and his wives.  He is in every scene.  Every scene. 

I live in rehearsals or the library studying Henry and his completely messed up family.  I am hoping to internalize these facts so I can own who he is.  Jochum is studying to be a model.  He’s cute enough.  Modeling school doesn’t have much homework, so he is partying his ass off.  Babes are climbing in our window at all hours of the night.  I am turning down pussy.  Me.  I am telling hot girls with questionable morals that they need to leave so I can study.  Me.  These acts of penile denial erase all doubt that I am serious about theater.  This doesn’t make me good, just serious.  So, somehow opening night, I nail it.  I am Henry.  Living, breathing, bigger than life.  It is magnificent.  It is the perfect drive that keeps my brother golfing.  It is an hour long orgasm.  It is being, with no past or future.  It is serenity. 

“Why couldn’t you do that in rehearsal?” says the director, master of the backhanded compliment.

About a third of the students are invited back for the second year.  I am not one of them.  They like me.  But I suck.  They ask me if I would consider coming back and training with the directors, maybe that is where my talent is.  I spin and reel.  I do not cry.  I will not cry. 

I save face.  I create a myth. 

I am trained from birth to make myths. 

History often needs revising to make a myth work, that’s OK.  All part of the deal.  So here is how it runs.  I never really wanted to act.  No.  What I wanted... what I wanted was to direct.  I only studied acting so I could better understand actors.  If I squint my eyes just right I almost believe it.

LOS ANGELES DRY SPELL

 

Year two, American Academy of Dramatic Art.  I am working with directors and filling in small parts in the productions.  There are two of us not quite good enough for second year actors, me and Nick Cassavetes, son of John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands.  He will go on to direct films and act in a few.  He has yet to live up to his birthright.  But fuck it, he’s fifty and holding tight to his dream.

I’m living in Pasadena’s Old Town, back before
Victoria’s Secret
and
Banana Republic
discovered it.  It is populated by failing pawnshops, bars, tattoo parlors,
a
Salvation Army an
d
the constant stench of piss and vomit.  I have a place in the Brookmore, a tenement building populated by drunk
s
, losers
,
and pensioners.  Jochum lives one floor above me.  He is working in the suit department of J.C. Penney.  Neither of us knows how tacky that is. 

Jochum is dating
a
big titted, hard core, main line Christia
n
he met at the Santa Anita mall.  After a rough night out that ended with him and me in a ghetto baseball field drinking tall boys and laughing, he tells me about trying to buy condoms.  Big titted Christian girls apparently don’t believe in the pill or diaphragms or any other form of birth control that made it seem like they might possibly be “planning” to have sex.  Sex was just something that happened.  You weren’t a slut if you didn’t plan it.  In the pharmacy Jochum slinks up to the druggist at the back, an older fella.  “Excuse me, do you have condominiums?” he whispers.

“What?  Son you ain’t from here are you?”

“Do you have condominiums?” 

“Hey Sheila!  This foreign boy wants some condominiums?”

Sheila has red hair and a hard body.  “Conda... oh, I think he wants condoms, Trojans?”  So much for stealth. 

I’m laying on first base laughing my ass off at the condom story.  I’m looking up at the sky.  I’m shit faced.  We stumble home.  Big titted Christian is up.  She is pissed.  She calls me the devil.  Jochum is a saint, and I tempt him into wicked behavior.  I don’t correct her.  Because I don’t care what she thinks of me, and if being the devil gets Jochum laid, why not.

This Bunn
y
for Christ gets a wild plan.  Find Josh a nice girl and he will settle down. 

Fair
p
lay. 

Ente
r
the blonde.  Damn she’s hot, in a bouncy edging towards perky kinda way.  And it has been a while since Ingrid and I split.  And I’m down south.  And, did I mention she is hot? 

S
o
I pull a
Goodbye Girl
on her, I serve her dinner on the roof of our building.  Set a card table next to the graveyard for old antennas.  Burgers and fries and a bottle of cheap red wine.  I am a classy motherfucker.  She falls for it.  I listen intently while she tells me about her life, but I don’t really hear her.  Her father is a truck driver.  She lives in a trailer park in the San Gabriel Valley.  She is a White trash cracker.  But I don’t see it because I want to fuck her. 

It isn’t masturbation that makes men go blind, it’s pussy, or the possibility thereof.

“Do you mind living next to those people?”  Most of my neighbors are Black.  She is playing with a fry as she speaks.  Running it over her lips.

“What kind of music do you like?”  I drop a non-sequitur.  I want to be the fry.  She’s driving me crazy.

“Country, Daddy says it’s the only true American music.”  Except for Blues, Jazz, Funk, a tiny voice screams.  I tell it to shut the fuck up.  Concentrate on the fry.  On her full lips.  On her tight ass.  Keep it light.  Breezy. 

I am driving her home.  She is snuggled down in the seat, she keeps looking over coyly.  I know she is a three date girl.  I’m sure we will be making out in my car when I drop her off.  Date two, she’ll let me grope her.  And date three I’m in.  This ritual will allow her to feel like she is really falling in love so it’s not dirty.  I will play along because, well, um, pussy. 

From her eyes I already know we will be doing the horizontal mambo by Saturday night. 

And then she opens that pretty mouth.

“I don’t know how they can afford a car like that.”  She is looking out of my piece of shit Pontiac Tempest at a BMW next to us.  It is driven by a Black yuppy and his girlfriend.  He looks like a lawyer.  I pray to God she stops speaking. 

Sh
e
doesn’t. 


The
y
spend their welfare on whiskey and fried chicken.  How can they afford that car?  You think maybe he’s a pimp?” 

Fuck. 

Doesn’
t
she know she is a caricature of a cracker?  Can’t she hear that she is every honky villain in every Blaxploitation picture from Shaft to Superfly?

I don’t say another word.  I am stupefied.  I drop her off without even a kiss.  She will tell Bunny for Christ that I’m crazy, sick.  I will tell Jochum she is a White trash racist idiot. 


Bu
t
she does have a fine ass.”  He will say. 

BOOK: All the Wild Children
10.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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