The Life You Have, The Life You Want

Posted: February 13, 2013 in Life, Mom
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.


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.

  1. Reed says:

    Is there a video of the Chuck E. Cheese commercial that you did the voice-over?

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