Saturday, April 25, 2009

CM PRESS # 676

Sixty-eight dead so far in Mexico. Strange flu is spreading.
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The play I'm doing is over about eleven. Twenty minutes later, some of the other actors and I are out of make-up and costumes and walking up to Max's Kansas City.

"Hey, man, you know Jack Smith?" says one of the other actors to me. "He's probably in the back room."

"Nah, I don't think I know him. Who is he?"

"Jack's famous, man. He does a lot of Andy's [Warhol] camera work and he's the guy who did Flaming Creatures. Great flick, man. Really cool. Fellini says he got some of his ideas from Jack. Come on, I'll introduce you."

We go into the back room which is crowded with New York's Avant-garde and walk over to a booth in a dark corner occupied by a skinny guy with military short hair and an earring.

"Hey Jack, this guy's an uptown actor (a compliment) you should meet."

So, after talking for a while, and after drinking a few beers, and to make a long story short, Jack asks if I want to be in his play about Atlantis. "See man," says Jack, "the real star of the play is Jane Mansfield's bra."

"Yeah, well I'm stretched pretty thin right now, but maybe I can read the script."

"Okay come on down to my loft Saturday morning and we'll go over it."


I'm standing outside an old decrepit brick four story factory building in a grubby deserted (except for the winos) area just off the Bowery; which years later is to become trendy and will be renamed SOHO. The door is locked and there's no door bell.

As you no doubt realize, there is but one sane thing to do. I do it. I step into the street, look up at the top of the building and shout at the top of my lungs, "Hey Jack, open the damn door will you."

Soon, Jack's head pops out from a fourth floor window. He recognizes me--can't be too careful in New York, the place is thick with method actors--and he tosses down a key attached to a foot long chunk of 2x4 with a bit of chain. "Come up to three," he yells.

I open the door and immediately get in the falling apart freight elevator and creak and jerk up to the third floor expecting the thing to crash to the bottom at any moment.

At three, I sling up the wood gate on the front and immediately enter the loft--no doors here. Anyone on the elevator can simply walk right into your loft.

The loft is one long room that used to be full of machines of some type or other in its earlier life. I imagine rows and rows of sewing machines with women with bobbed hair and bustles. Now, it's full of an odd assortment of Jack's junk. Literally.

The ceiling is cut away--with a chain saw from the looks of the jagged edges and beams sticking out--about half way to the back of the loft. Up above, on the fourth floor, is Jack. He shimmies down a rope. "Thanks for comin', man, he says. See those marijuana plants over there? They're going to be the palm trees in Atlantis."

So, to once again make this story even shorter, I ask to see the script and Jack pulls out a wrinkled and dirty piece of white typing paper from his back pocket that has typing on both sides and with plenty of strikeouts and margin notes.

"Where's the rest of the script?" I ask.

"That's it. You have it all."

"Geez, how long is the play, five minutes?" I ask.

"Last time we put it on it went for 48 hours,"says Jack.

"I'll give it some thought," I say, as I wonder how in the hell you improvise from a single sheet of paper for 48 hours. Jack apparently senses rejection.

"Hey, I'm having a showing of some of my films here next Tuesday to raise the rent, you wanna come?"

"I don't have any dough," I say.

"That's okay, come anyway and you can maybe help me with the projector.

"Yeah, maybe. We're dark on Tuesday. I'll see if I can make it."


With nothing better to do than entertain the cockroaches in my seventh floor walk-up, I decide to go to Jack's place. I walk from the 20's down to Jack's loft. It's dark when I arrive. This time, the door's open and there's a hand written sign on the freight elevator saying that everyone should go up to four and then take the ladder to the roof. I go to four.

Over in the corner is a black metal fire escape type ladder bolted to the wall and leading to a trapdoor that opens on the roof. I climb up the ladder. To my surprise the roof is packed with people. Many are dressed in expensive looking suits. Not exactly the Bohemians and drunks I was expecting; but there are some of those also.

I run into Jack and ask who all these people are and he says just people who like his work. That one over there is an ambassador, this one is a guy running for senator, that guy's with the governor, buncha people from the coast, people from the mayor's office.

Jack's donation basket is quickly filling up with big bills. I figure he's made his rent for another month and then some, and there are still more big bucks people arriving through the trap door. I suddenly realize that I must be the only person in New York who didn't know that Jack is a big deal.

I hang around a while, help a little with the projector which keeps screwing up, and then, because it's getting late, I head back to my own place. I have my own rent to meet. That means, in my case, getting up early and working in an office.

What? You think all actors work in restaurants? Don't worry, I've done that in spades. In fact, I worked as a dishwasher and bus boy in a restaurant in Boston when I was 13 and then later I worked for a while as a waiter in Ocean City, Maryland. I don't much like restaurant work. Not that I'm crazy about office work. But for me, at least, it was the lesser of the evils.

That's how a couple of us in the biz made our rent. Others have other stories and other ways. You may have heard about a few of them and maybe you've even seen a play about the subject. Well, it's possible.
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Thanks for reading the CM PRESS.

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