Archive for February, 2013

Before a play or musical hits Broadway (or off Broadway, as the case may be) it goes through several stages – these usually involve readings or workshops. A reading is basically the cast sitting down (or standing up) and literally going through the script, and maybe some songs. I did a few of these – I worked on Big before it went to Broadway, and had an awesome time. By the time it was ready for the stage, unfortunately, I had outgrown the role that I helped flesh out. I was literally too big for Big. The writers and directors were awesome though, and really supportive. I passed out a tape of some of my music to the composer, who rewarded me with a very thoughtful and encouraging letter.

I also did Fauntleroy, which was to be a stage production of Little Lord Fauntleroy. Uncle Richard was especially excited about this, but despite repeated attempts I don’t know that it went anywhere. It was cool, though, and I made some friends out of it. The thing with theater is you are thrown together very quickly and often you become like a family. Then, after the show, it’s all gone. So it’s a strange thing to have a close knit family one day and the next day it’s basically not there. During Fauntleroy I became friends with the kid who played the villain – great kid, whose turned out to be a great writer now. I still remember playing with his sister (his sister was actually my age, he was a little bit older) and making Creepy Crawlers. Remember those? It was basically an Easy Bake Oven, and you put these molds in it and filled them with goop. They came out all rubbery – usually they were bugs or monsters of some kind. It was pretty neat though. The week the workshop ended, I remember hanging out with them in their apartment  – his sister and I made some sort of collage out of stuff from Entertainment Weekly. I don’t remember everything in it, but I specifically remember cutting out a picture from Stalone’s Cliffhanger. I probably still have it somewhere. Afterward, these people who were close friends quickly disappeared for all intents and purposes from my life – at least in terms of a daily basis. It made me sad, but I was used to impermanence. It’s part of the lifestyle that you have to embrace – the ying and the yang.

One of the later workshops I did was for something called Pedro N’ Pete. It was a show about preserving the ecosystem, and it was a musical with all these sea creatures in it (eels, starfish, an octopus, etc). I played Pete. The musical director was actually the band leader for Saturday Night Live, a show I watched and loved even as a kid. We hit it off immediately, since we were both from Pennsylvania.

Anyway, they found out I had a little brother and they actually made a part for him in the play – he played a little eel that followed around the big eel. He loved it. It wasn’t our first time working together, though – we had done some commercials before. It was his first time in a play with me, though, and that was really cool.

I have a lot of “favorite” things about that play – for starters, it was really close to a cool comic book shop in the city. I insisted Mom take me in nearly every day. She rarely let me buy anything there, for whatever reason – comics were a “waste” since I was such a fast reader. By this point I was basically choosing books based on weight in paper – a 1,200 page novel might take me a week to finish off at most. I mostly just read the comics in the store until Mom got bored or I started getting looks from the salespeople.  The other thing I liked was that this venue was a place that Bob Dylan played often. I thought that was pretty cool. Yes, I did know who Bob Dylan was at 10. I knew who the Beatles and stuff were too. I remember listening to the radio and hearing some of their stuff when I was a kid – I asked Mom why they didn’t put out anything new.

Mom: Um…they’re not a band anymore.

Me: Oh, why not?

Mom: I’m not sure why. I think John Lennon got shot.

Me: WHAT!?

Mom: Yeah.

Me: When the hell did this happen? Why did nobody tell me?

Mom: It was a long time ago.

Me: Oh.

I remember very distinctly on the last night of the workshop our car blew up. We were just outside the Lincoln Tunnel and it started to shake. We heard a loud bang! and black smoke started to billow out from under the hood. We rolled it – very carefully – to a gas station. At this point, it was possible we weren’t even going to make it to the show at all. I’m not sure how it would have gone on – they don’t really do understudies in this sort of situation, and I was the lead. At the gas station, two Arab men looked it over and shook their heads while Mom threw fits. I don’t think they understood each other anyway. Eventually, one of them came up and told her he would buy the car from her – $500 cash – and she could use it to get to the city. We did. I think we called a cab.  Somehow, we made it there in time. I don’t remember how we got home, although we obviously must have. We went car shopping the next day.

The last night of the play was also significant in that I got my first real look at a woman. One of the ladies in the chorus (I think she played a star fish) happened to be dressing when I walked in after the show to get changed. I feel I should add that I wasn’t being creepy or pervy  – it was sort of a communal dressing room. Things weren’t divided in a typical way because there just wasn’t any room – there was just “back stage”. So the women took one side and the men took another. I felt awkward myself, changing in front of everyone, and usually used the bathroom to change if at all possible. Nobody really paid any attention, though – it was just another human body. To be fair, I didn’t see much – she was rolling down her stockings and slipping on jeans – but I felt hot and weird and embarrassed. Head down, I slipped on my sneakers (still laced and tied) and made my way out of there.

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I had a dream last night about Uncle Richard, as I often do these days. It put me in a mood to talk about him, but also reminded me of a conversation we had once.

Uncle Richard: If you ever tell people about me, tell them everything.

I looked at him curiously.

Uncle Richard: Oliver Cromwell said it to a painter. The idea at the time was for painters to flatter their subjects…making large kings look thin and so forth. He asked the man doing his portrait to paint him warts and all. So, that’s what I’m saying. Tell them the good things, and the bad things. I don’t need to be lionized.
So here goes.

Sometime early in my time with him, he introduced me to Sharon. Initially, he put her forth as one of his students (which she probably was, at least to a degree), but she was around a lot. And as I grew older, I began to see more and more of her. Uncle Richard had a wife, Mary, who I didn’t know very well. She was a sweetheart though, and was always offering tea or cookies or something, or inviting us up to the house (the studio was separate from the house, but you could see it from the windows). Anyway, I remember Uncle Richard calling Mom into his studio at one point and them having a very serious discussion while I waited outside. I was fairly curious and tired of waiting outside, so I wandered to the door and tried the knob. It was unlocked and I cautiously opened the door. Uncle Richard and Mom stopped their conversation. Mom looked kinda pissed, but Uncle Richard waved me in.

Uncle Richard: Come on in. Can you keep a secret?

Me: I guess so.

And he told me. He didn’t sugar coat it or tell me that Sharon was a “special friend” or anything, he straight up told me he was having an affair – he knew I’d know what that meant. He asked me to keep it secret and not tell anyone – especially Mary. I agreed. Sharon was a bit younger than Uncle Richard, at least by my estimation. She didn’t have silver hair like he did, and her skin was much more youthful. I couldn’t put an age to it, because I’m terrible at guessing people’s ages, but I’d guess she was a little more than have his age. She was pretty, I guess, but I found her to be much more austere than anything else. I took piano lessons from her for a while (Uncle Richard thought we should get to know her) and didn’t really care for it. She was strict, and hated anything but classical music. For fun, I rearranged classical songs into rock songs – I showed her what I had done, and she wasn’t terribly impressed.

Sharon: That is not Beethoven’s 5th.

She complained my “rock and roll” was giving her a headache, and I was bored with classical. I quit only a few lessons in. Plus, her place smelled like cats – she had about half a dozen milling around. Not that I don’t like cats – I do, I even have two myself – but there comes a point where you just have too many.

Nobody – myself included – understood why Uncle Richard even bothered with her. The only thing I can say is that possibly she spoke to a youthful side of him that Mary couldn’t. He was old and wise, but also vibrant and young at the same time. He admitted to me later – much later – that he was afraid of his own mortality. I think that seeing his wife age reminded him that he, too, was getting old. And he, too, would have to walk the same mysterious path that many others did before him – the one that meant the end of his life.

Anyway. I kept his secrets, and never told a soul. Over the years, it became more and more of an “open secret” – he’d go out with Sharon and his friends would ask where Mary was. I remember once he had a birthday party – his parties were always very nice. He usually held them at a country club, and we’d have to dress in khakis and sport coats (which annoyed me, because I hated dressing up – but I did it for Uncle Richard). He’d have sing alongs or read from plays or read poetry. It was actually pretty cool. Anyway, almost always, Sharon was at these things. After a few times of her being there instead of Mary, everyone knew what was going on. It was just too obvious. She got up to make a toast to Uncle Richard, among some of his oldest friends. I don’t remember everything she said, but one key phrase sticks out.

Sharon: …and as the man in my life…

A dozen people immediately got up and left. Mary was a sweet woman, and those that knew her were deeply offended on her behalf. For my part, I kept my mouth shut. It wasn’t my place to judge – particularly when it came to a man I respected so greatly. The only thing I wasn’t terribly thrilled about is that Sharon was in the studio increasingly often, making her and Uncle Richard sort of a package deal. I began to think of her like those nasty strawberry nougat chocolates you get in those boxes of candy. The rest is fine – great even – but you endured the ones that didn’t taste as good because the box overall was pretty damn great. And that’s about the worst thing I can tell you about Uncle Richard.

I’ve thought for years that the rift between Mom and myself started when I was a teenager – now I see it was actually quite a bit earlier. Right around the time Tim and I started to bond and create our own little world, we started taking her threats and hysteria a bit less seriously. I don’t remember what happened, exactly, but Tim and I were talking in the car – I think about alternate universes and whether or not they existed (we determined that they probably did, in some form) and Mom decided to go off about something. I think she felt I had done badly at an audition.

Mom: Show me what you did in the audition again.

I knew this was foolishness – it’s very difficult to replicate exactly what you did, especially for me. With music, acting, or anything else, each time I do it is slightly different – it’s kind of a one time shot. Still, I tried my best to approximate.

Mom: NO! That was terrible. You just bombed that audition.

I reflected back to the audition itself – I didn’t think I did such a bad job.

Me: Well, the casting person seemed to think I did okay.

Mom: This was a big one. This was the one that was going to make you. And you flushed it down the toilet!

I looked at her mildly. I had gotten so used to these outbursts I was barely responding anymore. I sighed, turned, and resumed my conversation with Tim.

Me: So, bro…when people time travel, do you think they end up creating alternate universes?

We tuned out Mom ranting and raving with our discussion. I glanced over, and saw that her eyes were literally bugging out of her head. She was clenching the steering while with a white knuckled fervor. I had a suspicions an unscheduled stop at Russ’s was in the offing. No doubt she would apologize to him about how badly I did on the audition, and ask for a second chance (aside from the fact that he had exactly zero to do with my acting career, this all seemed rather silly. Still, I bit my tongue).

Tim got fed up with her ranting, and with a shrug and a glance that said Sorry, bro he popped on his Walkman and disappeared. I grabbed a book and instantly buried myself in it. The problem with reading a book – especially when Mom was hyped up – was that I did not quite have as good a cloaking mechanism as Tim. He could ignore her with near impunity, considering his headphones were blasting. I could only attempt to be so absorbed and distracted with what I was reading that she didn’t even bother to disturb me. It didn’t always work. I got to hear about how awful I did, how I didn’t prepare well enough for the audition (even though I did), how I was going to be a failure and blow my chances. It was up to her to fix everything now and I better pray really hard that Russ would be understanding.

When I say that I was able to let her explosions roll of my back a bit more, that doesn’t mean I was unaffected. It’s just that her explosions stopped making me outwardly cry or yell – I did my best to keep a relatively calm demeanor. Inside, though, I alternated between worrying that everything she said was was true and trying to calm myself. Usually it was too much to deal with and I did my best not to think about it much. Still, I was usually inwardly roiling.

Looking back, I think that a lot of what she did was basically wage psychological warfare on her kids – Tim agrees. The thing is, I’m not sure she was even aware of any of this. Even if she was, she had (in her mind, anyway) a “good reason”. Like I said before, she’s basically a good person…just mentally sick.

Once home, Tim and I would hop on the Nintendo to play Super Mario or whatever. This was actually a really good method for drowning out the chaos, because there was a visual element as well as an audible element. Grandma didn’t understand it – she was suspicious of video games to begin with – and she didn’t like how engrossed we became. She could throw fits too – even more epic fits than Mom – but hers usually had a reason behind them. She was a little old Italian lady, so she was prone to fits of high drama and loud speeches. Either she had taken a sleeping pill and we woke her up by being too loud, or we didn’t come to dinner right away, or we didn’t clean our rooms, or whatever. We were so sensitive to outbursts that we shut off anything even remotely resembling them – and sometimes, that included Grandma.

Grandma: You kids aren’t even listening to me! It’s That Damn Nitenda.

Tim: NinTENDO, Grandma.

Grandma: Nitenda. Whatever.

For as long as she lived, it was not a Nintendo – it was That Damn Nitenda. All video games systems – and games themselves – were “Nitenda”. Tim and I laughed our asses off thinking about her trying to buy stuff from our Christmas list. We could just imagine her walking into Toys R Us or whatever and asking for a “Nitenda” (meaning a game, not the system), and the worker being horribly confused. Somehow, she managed to get it right most of the time – probably because we wrote stuff down for her.

I got a callback for that audition, by the way. I felt extremely validated – I knew, after all, that I had done a good job. I had prepared well, and gave a great read on the script. Mom had just been bugging out. She looked over at me with a very calm, almost beatific smile on her face.

Mom: You better call Russ and thank him for getting you that callback.

 

 

I saw something on TV once  – maybe a movie or show – that showed soldiers playing cards in the trenches (I think it was WWII). Bombs were going off overhead, debris was raining down, but these two guys were just drinking coffee and playing cards – totally engrossed in their game. That’s basically my brother and I, for the better part of our childhood (and frankly, adulthood too). We knew perfectly well deep down that serious stuff was going on. But we just chose to build a bulwark to stave it off. Our wall was made of things like the Ninja Turtles, Ghost Busters, the Blues Brothers, Spiderman, Batman and the X-men. Action figures, sugary cereals, Saturday morning cartoons, comic books and video games. If things were rough – Mom was breaking down and calling Russ at all hours, let’s say – it was time for us to play Super Mario Bros or Final Fantasy or Battle Toads. Or talk passionately about Ninja Turtles or Star Wars. Why didn’t Yoda just leave Dagobah and kick Palpatine‘s ass? We hadn’t seen him fight (this was years before the new trilogy came out – and don’t get me started on how terrible that was) but our little fan-boy selves were confident Yoda could take on Vader and the Emperor any day of the week. By himself. What’s more, if we were deeply enthralled in conversation – particularly a conversation that Mom couldn’t follow – she would probably just not even bother us. Or forget we were even there and sink further into herself.

This isn’t to say Tim and I never fought. When he was still very young, we fought like cats and dogs. I’d terrorize him with remote control Robot toys (I had one that I used to chase him with, which I thought was hysterical. Mom and Grandma didn’t think it was quite so funny). Sometimes our arguments would come to physical blows, and I always held back. Usually I would give up in the middle of the fight and just stand there and let him hit me. Once, when I was about 8 or 9, I actually had him on the ground and was punching him in the chest or arm or something. I don’t remember what happened, exactly, but I think he drew on one of my toys and broke some others. Grandma walked in and glared at me.

Grandma: You’re just like your father.

That took the air out of me like nothing else could. I never hit him again. At some point soon after, I think Mom had another one of her meltdowns. I don’t think either of us actually said anything, but a moment passed between us. I can’t put it into words, exactly, but it summed up everything neat little package: We’re the only sane people here. Can we be cool? And basically, after that point, we were. We rarely ever fought after that (something Mom marveled over a time or two), and we just built our own little world to keep stuff out. We knew it was there – it would always be there, no matter what we did- but if we could wish it away even for a few minutes, it was worth it.

I had my books, of course – I always had those – and they helped when I wanted to recede from everyone, even Tim. Tim wasn’t as much of a reader as I was, though. Not that he wasn’t intelligent, he just wasn’t a voracious reader. He immersed himself in things like facts about wildlife and science. Once again, this was a world Mom couldn’t follow him into and I think that helped. He’d also put his Walkman on and listen to tapes over and over, with the volume up quite loud. Mom would try to talk to him and he could ignore her with plausible deniability. I think that really was his way of blocking everything out. For me, those things that were “hobbies” probably saved my sanity (and Tim’s). I think I view them in a context that few other people are able to appreciate.

Tim and I developed sort of a non verbal form of communication. I remember being in the car with Mom and she was going on about Ross Perot and the War and stuff. Screaming and yelling “at” us (not really at us, but venting about everything).  I just looked at him. He sort of smirked and nodded. I was saying Dude, she’s really going off today. And he was like Yep, this’ll be a fun trip.

That’s not to say our family unit in general wasn’t tight – Mom and Grandma and us two kids were very close. Especially because I worried so much about what might happen to us. Money was always an issue. Then there was all of Mom’s delusions of being followed or poisoned or having a hit-man break into our house and kill us all. Even though I was becoming increasingly convinced none of this was terribly plausible, I did hold that it was possible. I knew for a fact she wasn’t just telling me stories – she believed this stuff. And if she believed it, it must be true – at least in some fashion. The fact that this was all entirely in her head didn’t occur to me until much, much later. So in a way, it was the four of us against the world, and then Tim and I creating our own little universe to keep everything else out. In other words, we were playing cards in a trench on a battlefield.

When I was about 10, we went on our first (and last) actual vacation as a post divorce family. I’m not sure what prompted it, exactly, but I think Uncle Carlo’s death had something to do with it. Mom was having a hard time adjusting and needed to get away – she felt that our only ally in “The War” was gone, and we would never get accepted by the Mafia. What do sad, confused, mentally ill mothers do when worried about such things? They go to Disney World.

Uncle Dave lived down there too – he was my mom’s half brother. He was a cool guy, and to me is a last link to my Grandfather. He looks a lot like him, and even talks a bit like him too. We decided to make it a nice, 2 week trip.  I had been very successful and we could afford to take some time off (granted, this whole shindig was on my dime – even though I got to make very few of the decisions about the trip itself). We loaded Grandma, Tim, Mom and myself onto an Amtrak train and went down. It was decided that we would visit MGM Studios – this is what Disney’s Hollywood Studios used to be called back in the day. Now that I think about it, that may have been a big reason for the trip – Uncle Carlo used to be a bigwig at MGM, and Mom may very well have felt she might find a “message” there. She certainly seemed to feel we were related to Arthur Freed – a famous producer from old Hollywood who helped get the Wizard of Oz made into a film (he did Singin’ in the Rain, among other things). We may very well have been – there was a whole set of cousins who shared his last name. She seemed to feel that she might get some more information about him from the theme park. Yeah. I know.

Anyway, almost as soon as we hit town, Mom starts cruising the main drag to get the lay of the land. All of a sudden she pulls over. I notice she’s thinking intently and gripping the steering wheel. My first thought was that Dad had somehow followed us – I checked behind us and saw no one. I shook Mom’s shoulder because she seemed to be trancing out.

Me: What’s going on, Mom?

Mom: Stay in the car.

She pulled into a parking lot and hopped out. She walked to a building that had a lot of neon signs out front, as well as arcane symbols. What do upset, confused, and mentally ill mothers do when they’re worried about the future? They go to psychics. It was just some $5 palm reading place, but she took it so serious. She popped her head out and gestured for me to follow her in. I did so, and sat patiently in the waiting room. I believed in the power of psychics – or at least the supernatural – because Uncle Richard and I had multiple conversations about such things. He assured me that there were more things in heaven and earth than I could possibly conceive of. I agreed. Still, I didn’t think any answers would be found from a $5 palm reading, and I didn’t like how serious Mom was being about the whole thing. During the course of our stay, she made several appointments – I think she went back a total of 4 times. I don’t know what was talked about – for some reason I wasn’t entrusted any further than the waiting room. Mom talked a lot about what the psychic told her, but the conversations were fluid and constantly changing. One minute, the psychic said only such and such a thing. The next, entire dialogues popped up. As usual, Mom was “adding” stuff to the conversation in her head and thinking it was real. I started catching onto this phenomenon rather quickly – she did it all the time with Russ, after all. Whenever I called her on it, though, she got really pissed off.

The other eventful thing about the trip was that Mom insisted I go to this acting seminar. I thought that was totally asinine. You got to audition in front of a “real director” for Nickelodeon who gave you tips on what to do. You’d learn all about improv and the acting business as well. I protested – why in the hell did I need this? I was already working. Mom thought it might land me a “break” – God knows why – and plunked down the few hundred dollars that it cost to get me in. Somewhat amusingly, the director didn’t seem to think I had what it took to be an actor.

Mom was always looking for an angle – whether it was trying to get me into ridiculous seminars like that one or pyramid schemes. She was always looking for a quick way to make money or to hit the big time. I told her over and over again, even as a kid – there’s no quick way. It’s a myth. Work hard, do your best, and you’ll be successful. If she spent half the time working hard that she did on trying to find ways to get rich quick, she’d have been very well off. While we were down there, she attended several seminars  that were clearly pyramid schemes. She drug me along, and I was bored as hell. I tried to read, but she would nudge my shoulder and make me listen. I could see the speaker was bullshit from 10 feet away.

Speaker: Do you want to live the life you’ve always dreamed? Have money in your pocket? Travel the world?

The crowd shouted it’s affirmation.

Speaker: I can’t hear you!

The crowd shouted louder.

Speaker: Well on my plan, you can do all that! It’s a simple system – it’s so easy to learn that anyone can do it. If you’re willing to work just one hour a week, you can quit your job and be rich!

I’m still unclear as to what exactly he was peddling. For all I know, he was selling the secret of turning lead into gold. Mom was one of the first in line after the speech, trying to get more information. Turned it out was some package – I think it might have been a book or some tapes – that showed you how to get money. She started arguing with him.

Mom: FIFTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS? For a BOOK!?

Speaker: Yes ma’am, but it’s not just a book. It will change your life!

Mom: Can’t you just tell me what to do?

Speaker: Well, the nice thing about this is, you have the full support of my team. If you buy the book, we’re always available to answer any questions you might have on your journey to riches.

Mom: Is there a cheaper plan?

Speaker: Well, I can offer you a $750 plan, but it doesn’t include the help.

Mom: How am I supposed to do it without help?

Speaker: Then you need the $1,500 plan.

Mom: But that’s stupid. I’m not paying that much.

Speaker: The advice is invaluable!

Mom: Do you know how much we make?

The speaker was getting annoyed.

Speaker: How much?

Mom: Thousands. A lot. He acts for a living. We don’t need this shit.

She grabbed my arm.

Mom: Come on, Dan, we’re leaving. He was rude.

I’m not sure what she expected – nobody gives away get rich quick tools for free. That’s how they get rich.

After maybe the 4th or 5th day there, we got a call from my agent. Evidently a client had called and wanted to book me directly, no audition. The commercial was for Chuck E. Cheese – it was a voice over, but it was going to be national net. It was expected to run very well – I’d make thousands. There wasn’t much of a discussion – we flew back early the next day, ran into the city, and did the job. When I was a kid, flying used to mess with my ears horribly and by the time we landed in the city I had a sore throat and messed up ears. Even sick, though, I knocked it out of the park. Looking back, I wonder if it was actually worth it from a financial standpoint to buy last minute plane tickets and jump through all the hoops we did to get back for the booking. I guess it was. I was kind of pissed that we had to cut the vacation short, though.

Mom: You can have a life or you can be successful. You can’t have it both ways.

Me: So this means we don’t get vacations and stuff?

Mom: You’re on call 24/7. That’s how it works.

And it’s true – I was almost like a doctor. Checking my pager, calling my agent from payphones to check in or (later, when the technology was there) having my phone on all the time so I’d be available for that last minute call.

One thing I am happy about though, is that I did get to go to Disney. I spent some time with Mom there, of course, but I also got to hang out with Grandma. I’m happy we did this, because it’s still one of my fondest memories of her. She had a heart condition and couldn’t go on most of the rides – she sat on benches a lot and waited for me to get off the rides. We did go on the Jungle Cruise together, though, and we had a great time. She had a blast looking at the hippos and whatnot. Even some two decades later, I still remember her clearly in her green sun dress and oversized granny glasses while we waited for the boat. To me, that’s worth the trip.

I realize this whole thing with Dad has me backtracking a bit, but it kind of makes sense in a way. This is called A Brief History of Time Travel, after all, and if I’ve learned anything from the sci-fi movies I love is that time isn’t linear anyway. At least, that’s what The Doctor would tell me.

The divorce itself wasn’t terribly acrimonious – mostly because Mom didn’t contest very much. In the initial stages, Dad insisted – wanted it in the divorce agreement, in fact – that I would stop acting and so forth. That’s about the only thing Mom flipped her lid on. Once that was settled, there was the matter of custody. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with Dad, of course, let alone being forced to see him on weekends or holidays. I was concerned about this, and did what I always did when I was concerned – talked to Uncle Richard about it.

Me: What if I’m forced to see him?

Uncle Richard stroked his chin thoughtfully.

Uncle Richard: I bet you’re old enough to just talk to the judge.

Me: Really?

Uncle Richard: Sure. You’re intelligent enough to convey your feelings. If he’s willing to listen, I’m sure he’ll respect them.

Me: Okay. Well, what do I say?

And Uncle Richard walked me through my first court date – interestingly, we did a lot of improv where he pretended to be the judge and asked me questions. He guided my answers – what he thought would hold weight with a judge and what wouldn’t – and helped me come off the best I could. To this day, I think improv is an excellent tool for things like this – evidently some in the business community have used it to loosen themselves up for presentations and public speaking.

Uncle Richard advised me not to talk directly about the abuse – at least, not to make it a central issue. Proof was scant (Dad was a bastard, but he wasn’t a dumb bastard) – he suggested I frame it in such a way as to be not so full of anger and vitriol.

Uncle Richard: Anger, hatred, yelling…these are how a fool communicates. A gentleman uses words. He’s persuasive. He doesn’t use his fists unless he has to. 

The judge ended up being a fan – watched me on Al Alberts Showcase and had seen some of my commericals. He asked for an autograph, even. Almost everything I said, he listened attentively and nodded. He even laughed and rocked back in his chair at some of my answers. Long story short, it was a slam dunk – I didn’t have to see Dad at all unless I wanted to. Thank God.

The upshot of the divorce was that Dad would pay a pittance in child support – something like $120 a month – ridiculously low, even by the standards of the early 90’s. He stipulated, though, that the child support was for Tim – not for me.

Dad: Dan makes his own money. He doesn’t need help from me.

Dickhead.

Anyway…Mom agreed readily to this – particularly since Dad dropped the stipulation that I quit acting (which frankly, I don’t know of any judge who would have realistically taken his side). She and I (and Grandma) just wanted him out of our lives – we would have agreed to nearly anything to get that to happen.

After that day, he was out of our lives – at least from a legal standpoint. He insisted on seeing Tim – I don’t think visitation was strictly set up, or if it was he didn’t follow through that often. Tim quickly got to a point where he lost interest, and so did Dad. What started out as once a month ended up as once every two months. Then once every two months became a couple times a year. The phone calls dripped and drabbed in – they had no real consistency. I remember looking at the caller ID and seeing his number come up. Pretty much whenever he called us, there was an awkward silence in the house. Nobody picked up the phone (except, occasionally for Tim). When the two of them talked, he sometimes asked for me – I always made sure I wasn’t around.

For the first year or two after the divorce, he made something of an effort – we got Christmas cards and birthday cards. Sometimes they had a 5 dollar bill in them. He never wrote anything – no personal message. Not even “Love you” or “miss you”. Didn’t even address the card as people usually do. Just scrawled “DAD” somewhere near the bottom. These cards too, eventually stopped.

He’d sometimes show up at the house unannounced. He’d bang on the door and just beat on the doorbell. We would all hit the deck when this happened – we’d kill the lights and sit in the dark. We’d try to be as quiet as possible.

Dad: I KNOW YOU’RE IN THERE. I WANT TO SEE MY GODDAM KIDS.

We never answered the door, and he usually left – only after yelling at Mom through the door.

Dad: WAY TO ACT LIKE A LITTLE FUCKING CHILD, DONNA.

Of course, he was around – skulking in the yard, or sitting at the end of the street in his rusted out Bronco. Once, somebody kicked in the door of our house while we were out at breakfast. Didn’t take a thing – didn’t move a thing, really – just rifled through some tax records and overturned some chairs. I’m pretty sure I know who it was (and if you can add, I’m pretty sure you can figure it out too).

He would fall off the face of the earth and we’d never hear anything for years. Then he’d suddenly remember he had kids and call furiously. Even if Tim did see him or talk to him on the phone, he’d lose interest in maybe a month and he was back to being a disappeared Dad. Curiously, he usually only called when one of us -Tim or myself – did something to land us in the papers, or he saw a commercial we were in or something.

As a kid, and even a teenager, I used to think about him a lot. I thought about what meeting him would be like – if I’d be able to keep my fists still, or if I’d try to punch him out. Sometimes, in my darker moments, I used to plot his death – usually something painful and humiliating. But that was a childish anger, even if it was righteous. I even stopped calling him Dad (I did this even before the divorce was final) and called him Bob. I just had to separate myself from him as much as possible.

When I think about it now, as an adult, I don’t feel much. It’s like having a rotten tooth pulled. Your tongue still finds the place where the tooth was, but it doesn’t hurt anymore. You know you’re supposed to have a tooth there – at least, you did at one time – but you don’t. The scabs have healed over and although there’s a little dip in your gums where the tooth used to be there isn’t any pain. It’s like that.

Last I heard, he got remarried and redivorced (no more kids, thank God). He drinks in bed, and spills wine and beer all over the sheets (so his now-ex-wife told Tim). He’s as strange as ever, and probably just as angry. I suspect he’ll die alone.

When he does die – assuming I hear about it – I’m sure it will be a strange experience for me. People are supposed to feel grief at the death of their parents, aren’t they? I don’t think I’ll feel anything.

I was sitting at my desk, doing homework. Perhaps more accurately, I was sitting at my desk staring at my homework. Dad had plopped me down there and insisted I do homework instead of reading like I wanted to – I had shown a disinterest in going to “hunt squirrels” with him, to learn “nature”(in other words, watch him play with the innards of dead animals). Thus, I was picked up and plopped down in front of my desk, where he insisted I do science or math. I asked questions about the homework, which he wouldn’t answer.

Dad: Figure it out, dummy.

He left the room. I set aside the science and math books and did the English and history instead. There wasn’t much to do, since I had basically worked so far ahead I finished it all. I went back to the science and stared blankly at it. The more I stared, the angrier I became. Who the hell was he to call me dumb? I recalled how he was there every time I stumbled, or fumbled a catch the few times we played ball.

Dad: …Goddamn klutz. How can you possibly be so uncoordinated?

My mind flashed to every unfair punishment he ever doled out, every false beating I ever received at the end of a belt buckle or hanger. Black oil bubbled inside me. I thought of the time just after Grandpa died – maybe a couple weeks out – that he sold all my toys at the flea market. Most of them were toys Grandpa had given me, which he knew full well –  he even sold he toy chest Grandpa had made me. I thought of the time that, for no reason at all, he began hurling empty and half full beer bottles at Mom and myself from his couch. They shattered on the wall behind us, caps spinning out on the floor. He stopped because he ran out of bottles, not because of our terrified screams, never yelling or even speaking throughout the entire event. I thought of hanging on to the bed post while he pried me off and beat me so bad that purple, angry welts appeared instantly. I thought of Rocky.

I snapped the pencil in half. I looked down, and noticed it was Dad’s own pencil, one of a monogrammed set – his name was emblazoned across the red pencil in gold. That made me more angry, but snapping it made me feel better. I went through the entire set.

Snap!

Snap!

Snap!

I was angry still, but gleeful. Destroying his property was giving me a perverse sense of pleasure. Without thinking much about it, my passive aggressive side came out. I walked out to where he was drinking beer and watching a John Wayne movie.

Me: Dad, I can’t do my homework.

Dad looked over slowly, annoyed.

Dad: Why not?

Me: I don’t have any pencils.

He looked confused, but roused himself and ambled over to the desk. There sat his monogrammed pencils, like neat little corpses, snapped in half. In two steps, he was at the closet and back, a hangar in his hand. He raised it above his head, and I saw black and felt very cold.

I put out my hands and I shoved him as hard as I could. He rocked back a little on his heels. I doubt it was my strength – I was 8 – and think rather that it had more to do with surprise. I felt nothing. Just cold and black. I balled my fists and beat him every where I could – mostly going for his stomach and chest.

Me: Come on then, you bastard! You like that? How does it feel? HOW DOES IT FUCKING FEEL!

I screamed every foul word I knew – called him every name in the book. I don’t remember the particulars of what I said, because it was as blurry in the moment as it is now.

His hand that was holding the hangar dropped and he was looking at me stupefied. I saw an opening and snatched the hanger. I hit him with it, high on the arm.

Me: THERE YOU GO, FUCKER. HOW’S THAT?

He stumbled back, still in shock.

I chased him out of the room, I know that much. I screamed after him. I don’t think he retreated in a full on run, but he stumbled and shuffled his way out in a daze. I stayed behind, clutching the hangar like a cross. I let it go when I noticed my hand hurt, and that the angles had left deep impressions. I paced for a while, like a caged animal, before breaking down and crying.

He never hit me again – in fact, didn’t even acknowledge me for the rest of his time living there. He was gone in a couple of weeks – moved out after a fight he and Mom had over the phone while I was doing my play.

Mom told me the news – that Dad left, and they were getting a divorce. I was relieved.

Me: Good. I think that’s good.

Mom cried a lot, and promised me that no one would ever hurt me – no matter what. I’m not sure if she was talking about Dad or the Mafia.