I remember when summer lasted twelve hundred years. Running and playing forever outside and sitting in a cool basement watching reruns and eating Dairy Queen Dilly Bars from the basement freezer. I remember parties with tons of kids and my Dad lifting the lid off of the weber grill and a huge cloud of black smoke would spread skyward and we would chant, "Pollution... pollution!!" I remember lakes and cabins and swimming and not wanting to swim. I remember staying inside on purpose to color and watch while everyone else was outside. Every day that holds fast in my memory as a movie montage accomanied by Perry Como's cheerful tune, "Roll Out Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer."
I put a small photo I had cut out of a magazine onto the glass plate and in this very dark room, the now archaic Photostat machine did its thing, blowing up the image to the size of a huge poster. I made one of Matthew Broderick from a photo I found in the newspaper. I had a trimmed photo of Judy Garland and blew that up as well. I rolled the posters I had created up and discreetly brought them out of the stat room along with the images that one of the designers had asked for. These images would be pasted into place on a layout to show the printers where the photo would be in the layout. They weren’t that good, black and white and grainy, but you could blow them up into posters and I liked that. I wasn’t supposed to do it but I did it anyway. I had to have a summer job. No more being spoiled and running amok, I was eighteen going on nineteen. Freedom for most of the summer was gone and the hot mornings were spent driving to work. I didn’t have to apply, I didn’t have to show a portfolio even if I had one. I just had the job because I was the bosses son. My Dad was President. The Bradley Printing Company, named after my older brother. I liked the people I worked with, especially one girl who’s name I don’t remember. After awhile, there wasn’t much for me to do. I was one more artist than the department needed and it was clear that I was only there because I was the bosses son. We had lunch outside at a picnic table. The fresh air filled my nose and diluted the smell from the massive printing presses that were in the warehouse that was just down a metal stairway from the art department. As the weeks went by and as I spent most of my time doing nothing, I could see the interest in me turn to resentment and even though it may not have been a good idea, my new found friend and coworker snubbed me. I knew why and I understood why and it embarrassed me. It was stupid the whole set up. But I had a job and I got paid more than I would have if I wasn’t the bosses son. My Dad had a habit of doing good things that were at the same time not so good. It was wonderful to have this opportunity but I didn’t fly with it, I sat with it watching the clock and counting the minutes until 5pm. I waited for my time at the Bradley Printing Art Department to end so that I could be just me and not the President of the companies son.
I wont be home this summer because I am going to spend it in St. Louis. I was thrilled. A summer away from my family, a summer to stay in my College town of Webster Groves, Missouri. Blissful summer to be me even more than I had ever been. I had an apartment in Brentwood. It was among several white brick buildings and a handful of students had places there. I found an old sink and brought it into the front hall of my apartment and planted flowers in it. It was my conversation piece. I had a conversation piece in my very first apartment. But still, I had to have a job. I had to make enough to cover my share of the rent. At the beginning of Summer, the guy I was going to share the apartment with got a summer stock job and even though he was gone, he still paid his share, at least until the Fall when I would have to find someone new to live with me. I had a few jobs that summer actually, the first attempt was as a Singing Telegram Messenger. Stupid. The ridiculous Yankee Doodle vest and boater hat. I had done this before when I was going to school in Palatine. It was fun. I actually got to deliver a message to Bette Midler! But as I was leaving the main office of the Singing Telegram Company with my vest, a binder of music and the cheap styrofoam boater hat, I remembered how eventually I had hated the job before. What started out adventurous and exciting, surprising people blowing what I will call a “whoop whoop” whistle, I would be the life of any party, singing a parody of some song befitting the occasison. But eventually it got old. Driving around in car with twenty blown up helium balloons bobbing back and forth and floating to the front of the car as I drove. They would float in front of my face as I was driving on the tollway and I would keep punching them out of the way. Awful. And so, these thoughts stood before me, hands on their hips saying, Remember Rob? It sucked eventually. You hated it. You hated it. Its an awful job, looks like fun, everyone smiles and laughs, some nervously yes, but all of them laughing and loving and... SMASH, the boater hat was crumpled when it got stuck between the car seat. Right away, it flattened and was ruined and it was a sign. Don’t do it. I went back and told them I wasn’t able to work for them. I came up with some lame excuse and almost immediately I got a job as an usher at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. This was a great gig. I only had to do it for a few hours a day and a bunch of my friends worked as ushers too. We all stood around with a stack of these ridiculously large programs that were the size of Architectural Digest magazine. My friend Peter and I used to amuse each other by “accidentally” dropping them and these great big books would mudslide across the carpeting. “Oh, oops! I’m sorry. Sorry!” Peter would say as I laughed watching from across the aisle.
All we had to do was to pass out programs, take people to their seats if they were stupid enough not to know where their seats were. I mean, it was logical! Have you never been to a theatre? Then at intermission, we stood around and did the same at the end of the opera, opening the house doors and saying goodbye to the people as they left. There were other jobs that some of the other students had, concessions for example, but Peter and I were the lucky ones. We just had to do the little job that we did.
Operas are long. Once everyone was in their seats, we had about an hour and a half to kill. After several weeks, we had grown so accustomed to this that one afternoon, we decided to go get high. All we had to do was just stand around and our vacant stoned faces wouldn’t be much different than the usual vacant faces we had as we stood around.
Peter and I were fucked up. We stumbled back into the lobby just as Michael, the house manager ran over to us and said, “Oh my GOD! Where have you guys been? We’re short on staff and you guys need to do Concessions!”
“But we’ve never done it before...” I said trying to squeeze some sober clarity into my brain.
“It’s no big deal, they tell you what they want, they give you money, you give them change and then give them what they ordered.” He rolled his eyes. “Go! Now. People are waiting and they are pissed off.”
There were two concession stands one on each side of the lobby and so Peter and I were separated and sent to our respective posts. My moment of clarity soon began to fade as people barked out their orders and I suddenly lost all my mathematic skills and struggled to give them change back and then get them the drink they ordered. I was freaking out and I glanced over at Peter who had a look of absolute fear in his eyes. He quickly looked over at me and where he would usually laugh, he looked like he was being beaten up by a bunch of thugs.
It was awful. It was a miserable storm of having to know Math and to listen to people in the overwhelming loudness of the clambering intermission lobby.
We never got high at intermission again.
We waited until after the curtain call and after we went through the auditorium and picked up all the scattered and enormous programs off of the floor.
The summer after I graduated from Webster, I was hired by the Timberlake Playhouse to be part of their Summer Stock season. I performed in the musicals "Promises, Promises" and "Annie" and I appeared in the play, "Bleacher Bums." The Theatre was a campground with small cabins shared housing two actors each. There was a barn where we ate our meals. Rehearsals took place outside on a large paved area. The whole compound was wooded with a lake, volleyball and the various buildings for the theatre, a costume shop, set shop and the theatre. I have always had a love hate relationship with actors. When you are cast in a show or in this summer stock season as I had been cast, for the most part, everyone becomes a great big family made up of individual clicks that happen most likely for survival reasons. I always ended up in my own click, a click of one. I was like a satellite that wandered from click to click, participating in gossip, hearing what others had to say about others and getting caught up in the drama that was much more prevelant offstage as it was on. At any moment though, I could bypass the drama. But I rarely did, it was too easy to get caught up in it. If you weren't in one of the shows while it was rehearsing, you would be part of the crew. This meant hours of doing all the things I didn't want to do. I didn't want to sort screws. I didn't want to carry all of this crap over to where all that other crap was. I didn't want to paint anything. The woman who was in charge of building the sets and set pieces was a frumpy oversized bitch. I can call her that because that is what she was. She was mean and seemed to love to prey on actors. She especially liked to prey on the ones she knew hated doing crew work. Galen and I were just those two people and the two of us had a laundry list of inane things to do. Screws were sorted. Dump them on the floor and sift through them digging through what looked as if she had mixed them all up on purpose. Enormous flats were painted and painted again. Crap was moved from one place to another place. This was not what I had signed up for and I couldn't wait for the next show, Promises, Promises so I could just be an actor and rehearse and be in the show. That was what I was supposed to be doing. We hated this overbearing woman and even though we thought we concealed it, she knew it and treated us accordingly. On the opening night of Promises, Promises, Galen and I during a scene change were designated to carry a desk onstage. It was a quick change. We had done it quite easily during rehearsals but now, opening night, during the performance, we grabbed the desk and could barely lift it. "Come on! Go... GO!" The hateful woman whisper shouted and pointed towards the stage. We struggled to carry this extremely heavy desk and managed to get it in place onstage. Afterwards, we wondered why the desk, that we had to then remove from the stage was so fucking heavy. The hateful bitch from beyond the depths of the lowest rung of hell had put several stage weights in the desk drawers. She did this on purpose. After the show we had no problem letting her know how we felt and how unprofessional she was for doing such a thing. She smirked as we expressed our anger. "Why did you do that?!" I asked.
"Because." She said, staring at us with a look that could kill. Here was this woman who more than likely had been harrassed and teased in High School or anywhere for that matter because she was frumpy and dumpy and fat and evil. She was transfering that misery on to us. "I kept telling you guys that the audience could see you when you stood in the wings." She said, with her low fat voice and still with that shit eating grin. "What?!" Galen said. Galen I felt was more tempermental than I was. Regardless, we were both equally pissed. "Well, don't ever do that again!" I said insinuating that she would get in trouble if she did. "And for that matter, how about designing the set so it isn't so easy to be seen offstage!" With that, we turned on our heels and went on with the rest of the show that didn't involve any more set changes for us to perform. This was just the tip of the iceberg of what was a non televised reality show. The episodes were endless. The lowest point of the summer for me was when Charlie, the actor from New York who I had a fling with but was now estranged from handing me notes onstage that read, "Only (insert amount of time here) weeks left to have to look at your fucking ugly face." I got paid. That was the best part and I admit it was a better summer job than having to be embarrassed to be the spoiled son of a President. It was a better summer job then to be stoned and dropped into a pit with thousands of people who were attending an opera and were thirsty and or hungry and when working concessions the only sound you heard was the screaming in your head. All of this seems exaggerated I admit. But that's how I remember it. Summer's is lazy, hazy craziness comes all at once or individually wrapped. Take it for what it is at any age. Light those marshmellows on fire and watch them slowly burn away. Hold on to summer and make sure you appreciate and love every single minute, good or bad.