he’s walking around like he’s number one

After the final Gorefest show on Friday, we disassembled the set. I sum it up in one sentence but it took a little over three hours of solid labor. Mopping up two weeks’ worth of fake blood. Striking the backdrop (I punched a hole through the canvas on a dare). Detaching the stage into component pieces and stacking it in a corner. More mopping. Wiping blood off the walls and ceiling. Hauling plywood to the dumpster. Cleaning off the seats. More mopping. Bobby sent us home at 3:00.

I gave Misch a lift to the party at Mike M’s in Somerville, since she had to meet up with her travel companions for ImprovBoston’s trip to Tokyo. The party was still going at 3:30, as Mike’s parties tend to, so I chatted with Sasha, Dave S. and a coworker of Robert’s dressed as Holly Golightly. I called it quits around 5:00, driving back to Davis to sit under a hot shower and let pink stuff stream out of my hair. I entertained brief fantasies of staying up until sunrise but passed out regardless.

Dragged myself out of bed to meet the parents at the Marriott near MIT on Saturday, 10:45 or so. We walked around Cambridge and the MIT campus, passing the MIT Football team warming up for their big game. They warm up to a mixtape of various 80s hits, including “Don’t Stop Believin’.” No joke.

The shaggy hair must make me look courteous, because several folks asked me for directions that afternoon – the last, a woman in her 40s in Clemson garb on the B Line. “Boston College,” she addressed me as, pointing to my sweatshirt, “which stop would I get off at for Mary Ann’s?” I told her (Chestnut Hill Ave; walk down the hill; make a left) and she relayed the information to peers of similar outfits and age. What half a dozen Clemson alumna/parents would be doing at Mary Ann’s except trolling for 18-year-olds, I couldn’t tell you.

My parents met most of the BC tailgating regulars outside the parking garage, where Casey hustled over some kielbasa. Talk turned to Brady Smith, an alumnus of my high school and a BC football player until very recently. “What did Brady Smith get suspended for?” I asked Casey.

A touch of the rape.”

“Right.”

BC played some heartbreaking ball on Saturday, dangling hope in our faces in a 27-21 loss to the Clemson Tigers. Defense and special teams played their hearts out – several key interceptions, a blocked punt run back for a touchdown – but the offense once again failed to deliver. I am frankly tired of Chris Crane’s shitty excuse for passing. We lingered for hot dogs and burgers after the game, then I got my parents home.

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what horrors hide in blood-red tides like demons of the deep?

Spotted on the walk to the train this morning: a street sweeper the size of a golf cart. Stickers on the back and sides proudly advertised its environmentally friendly bio-diesel engine. A city employee sat in the driver’s seat, reading a Metro. The engine idled noisily. The cart continued to idle, not moving anywhere, as I passed it and then cleared its line of sight.

Technology can make people greener, but it certainly can’t make them smarter.

# # #

Let me walk you through a typical night of Gorefest (a few seats are still available for the 10:00 tonight, I’ve been told).

6:40: I arrive in Central Square and grab a fast, hot dinner. Usually Wendy’s.
6:50: I reach the theater. Bobby and the crew test-fire the effect cannons in the stage – high-pressure air pumps connected to PVC piping. After some dry fires and a few runs with water, these pipes get filled with fake blood – among other things – for a few key effects.
7:05: After greeting other castmates and settling in, I rifle through the laundry bag for my costume. We have to do a full run of laundry every night to get the gore out of our costumes. A little Greased Lightning and a pre-wash gets out even the toughest stains. My shirt and jeans feel a little stiff, having been laundered seven times in ten days, but I probably have one of the more comfortable costumes.
7:20: Musical warm-up. We all assemble in front of Steve G. and the band, cloistered into a corner of the theater behind a shield of painter’s plastic. He leads us through warm-ups to tune our voices, loosen our jaws and percolate our enunciation. It’s also good silly fun, which helps.
7:30: “Place your props!”, Bobby tells us. “I’m opening the house in two minutes.” Other players scurry around, concealing severed limbs or disgusting puppets back- or under-stage. I don’t have anything that demanding, but I do snake a length of plastic tubing down my shirt for a later effect.
7:55: The cast assembles in a tight circle in the green room, hands in the middle, for a final pre-show pep talk. “A lot of people didn’t think we’d make it to Regionals,” Paul D. observes. “Let’s hustle out there, Squad Team. Let’s give it our all.”
8:05: Bobby delivers the pre-show speech to the audience – where the exits are, ImprovBoston’s other shows and classes, check out the website, etc. – before kicking off Gorefest proper. The lights dim and Mike and Lindsay enter for the show’s first number.
8:20: From here on out I have to speak indirectly to avoid spoilers. The stage divides into two halves – a ship’s deck, with a high railing, and a ship’s interior on the opposite side. While a scene wraps up on the “interior” side, I sneak onto the “deck,” concealed by darkness and the railing. I remove the tube from my shirt and affix it to a pump near my feet. One of the effects crew checks the fixture for watertightness, then primes the pump. I remove the first of three gore packs from my pocket, fingering the gross plastic wad, and wait. The scene ends; the stage goes black; I stand and wait.
8:35: Lany and I wait in the green room, peeking through the door to the main theater. We have an entrance in 90 seconds. “I’ve got some friends on your side of the audience tonight,” she says, pointing discreetly. “If you want to scare the crap out of them, go ahead.”
8:45: The first on-stage surgery of the night. I don’t have to do anything for this one except stand behind the patient and get covered in ancillary spatter. Oh, and sing.
8:55: I slip to the green room to grab my next two props – a blood-soaked book bound in glue and a damp handkerchief. I also grab a swig of water: this is my big duet.
9:15: My last scene on stage before the finale. I grab another gore pack and some rope and clamber onto the deck under cover of darkness. We’ve hit the stage with several torrents of blood and goop since my last time here, so the floor sticks to my hands and the soles of my shoes. I crouch in the dark and try to control my breathing.
9:30: Big finish! Lights, dancing, explosions! Audience cheers wildly.
9:32: I blurt out thanks and apologies to everyone who saw the show and got sprayed. Lany brings out a bucket of warm water and several rags; she, Bryce and I grab each puppet and prop from under the stage and give it a cursory wipedown. There’s only so much we can do, as most of these puppets have steeped in blood, brains and vomit for the past hour and a half. Misch and Maile bob and weave around us, wiping the ocean clean of gore.
9:40: “Fire in the hole!” I cover my head as a pneumatic cannon goes off above me, spraying water with a loud PFTHUNK. Every cannon gets two to three test fires with water to clean the gunk out.
9:45: “Finish what you’re doing!” Bobby yells. Most of the stage is still vaguely pink, but the ten o’clock audience has already packed the lobby. “We’re done cleaning! Reset your props; we’re opening the house.”
9:46: I sprint backstage, shuck my bloodsoaked costume and jump into the backup. I rinse the worst of the blood off my face and hands. The mirror tells me I’m sunburnt from fake blood soaking into my pores; can’t be helped.
10:08: Bobby gives the pre-show speech. The lights dim, the back door opens, and we do it all over again.

why wait? there’s a world outside

Took a sick day yesterday; sorry to leave you hanging.

Reached that part of tech week (note: buy your Gorefest tickets today!) where everything in my life but the play starts to gradually disintegrate. I need one or two good nights’ sleep to fight off the cold but I haven’t managed them yet. Dishes now sit in my sink for days on end before I wash them. I’m running low on bread, salad and other lunch necessities. And my fifty books in a year plan has fallen on hard times.

I fell into The Sims for a brief but addicted period in college. I made artificial people live artificial lives and screamed in frustration when they got stuck on their way out of the apartment (“no, you start breakfast, you fix the toilet, and … it … grr!”). Eventually I realized the sick irony in spending hours alone in my bedroom, lit only by my laptop screen, struggling to give computer characters rich, fulfilling lives. So I quit.

One of the things that stuck with me, however, were the little persona scores each Sim had. Each Sim had eight gauges that measured their needs – Hunger, Energy, Social, Room (the quality of the space they currently occupied), Bladder, etc. Walk from your gorgeous living room to your cramped, dirty bathroom and watch your Room gauge plummet. Hunger and Energy steadily diminish over time, until you have to eat or sleep to replenish them. Different Sims deplete at different rates – your introvert can top off his Social tank for days after one good conversation, but might lose interest in the TV in seconds.

I live alone in a modest studio in Davis Square. Anything in my life that I fail to maintain – groceries, cleaning, exercise, stimulating conversation – simply will not get done. I might loaf around for a while and avoid the little routines that will satisfy me in the long run. But then I remember my Sims, crying and poking the walls in confusion, and I get to work. I make my bed every morning and I picture my Room gauge going up. I cook a tasty and varied meal, rather than grabbing chips and soda, and watch little green pluses stack up next to the Hunger tank.

This private imagery came back to me recently because of this TED talk about video games breaking the barrier between virtuality and reality. I interpret life through video game cues. I visualize green gauges and happy sound effects, and that inspires me to get things done. I don’t know that making my bed because it “fills up my Room gauge” is any different than making my bed because “I can hear my mom nagging me.” They’re both outside stimuli that speak to a pre-rational level. It’s just that I can get expansion packs for mine.

don’t touch that dial; we’re in denial

In a dream this past Thursday, I accompanied some crooks on some complicated robbery in this compound up in the mountains. Law enforcement showed up, including the President in a VTOL jet. I had a rifle handy, so I took a shot at the President – not out of any particular dislike of Geena Davis, mind you, but because I thought it would make a good distraction. The bullet creased the side of her head; she glared at me, said something I couldn’t make out, and took off from the cockpit in her jetpack. I pegged her in the foot with a second shot – a pretty phenomenal shot, really, as I had to lead it by a few yards, given the distance and altitude – and she spiraled out and crashed.

The biggest hassle in the days that followed wasn’t going on the run for murdering the President. Rather, it was turning on CNN or MSNBC and watching talking heads dissect the details of my life for clues as to my troubled past. I watched Rachel Maddow pick apart my Netflix queue with a criminology “expert” and felt awkwardly angry.

# # #

Pulled something just beneath my glute at jiu-jitsu. I grow old. Liz B. suggested that it might be my “uber-hammy,” or the biceps femoris. It’s fine now, but bothered me sorely this weekend.

Every time I pat myself on the back for teaching jiu-jitsu, I strain something in my shoulder. Sure, I’ve stuck with something for 8 years that most people quit in 3 months. I would not work out regularly were it not for jiu-jitsu: the gym bores me. But throwing people around, even on the supremely cushioned mats we use*, takes a toll on the heartiest athletes. At the brown belt level, I regularly see people nursing wrist sprains, neck trouble or aching backs.

I lay all this out not in a search for pity or applause, but because I genuinely don’t get it. I know that I’m going to end most classes limping and sore, and not in the way that power yoga or 45 minutes of spin gets you sore. I have yet to break anything other than my nose or an errant finger in class, but the law of averages has its eye on me. But I keep showing up anyway.

# # #

Woke up on Saturday with a mild cold – sore throat, small congestion. I didn’t really feel the worst of it until Gorefest set-building on Sunday, when I tried to hoist a light up into the rafters of the theater and had to stop on the ladder to rest.

My cure: take one ibuprofen (500mg), one melatonin (5mg) and one multivitamin every night before going to sleep. So far it’s helped me sleep and kept my symptoms livable. Sorry if I pass this cold along on to anyone else, especially anyone who has to sing in 10 shows over the next 14 days**.

# # #

I saw the most intelligent baby I’d ever seen on the Red Line on Monday morning. Most babies regard the world around them with shifting, glazed eyes. This one looked at each person around her with preternatural focus. She didn’t make any random noises or flail without purpose. She sat there calmly, making and holding eye contact with every other rider in her periphery, unstrapping her velcro shoes with quiet deftness. She was, quite possibly, the world’s most perfect baby.

____________
* Most jiu-jitsu studios use the thickest gym mats you can buy and even those don’t help. They change an accelerated fall from a height of six feet from crippling to survivable. The academy I train at uses a modestly sized mat, layered on top of ten inches of alternating foam and plywood. It springs under impact. Without that I would have found an excuse to quit years ago.

** Buy your Gorefest tickets now!

nobody’s right ’till somebody’s wrong

My weekend started properly at about 11:00 AM on Friday. I looked up from some proofing to find the Chief Operations Officer grinning at my desk. “I owe you a game,” I said.

“Yes, you do. Are you free?”

“I’m free right now,” I said, so we went to the break room to play our long overdue Round 2 of the annual Internet Inc. Pool Tournament.

I will shock no one by saying that I lost to my manager’s director’s boss and last year’s champion. I shocked myself, however, by making a run of it. I took my time and thought about the shots I had to make, rather than winging my way through it, and completed several shots I wouldn’t have thought in my range. Of course, the difference between a good player and a skilled amateur comes from grace under pressure. The COO made several shots when it counted; I missed several shots that I needed to make. Still, a slightly firmer touch on my last pocket shot and I’d have pulled off the upset of the century.

Afterwards, my team and several neighbors went out drinking at Green Briar in Brighton. The daily specials advertised nachos, chicken parm pizza, and “cool 80s with Taint.” After trying our hardest to parse this last one, we caved and asked the waitress. “It’s an 80s cover band,” she explained. “Called Taint.”

“And it’s in reference to …”

“Exactly what you think it is.”

Mike G. from work had some folks over to his place in Brighton Center. I played a round of Beirut, then hung out on the porch with the smokers, learning that some otherwise cool folks have a remarkably deep love of Wings. As in, Paul McCartney’s leavings.

I ended the night at Common Ground, where a small crowd surfaced for Kim’s birthday – Greg W. and Beth, Melissa, Katie H., RJ, Drew, Dan S. and Serpico – but somehow Marie and I were the only ones who danced. Why pay a $4 cover to to drink in a place that’s too loud to have a conversation? I don’t get it. I introduced Marie and Matthew and we all rocked the dance floor until 1:30 or so.

Saturday belonged to Gorefest set-building. The girls proved remarkably handy with power tools – Monica running the jigsaw to cut out several sheets of Masonite, Liz C. scampering under the risers to drill and bolt them together. I supplied brute force and dumb weight as needed. The stage itself looks phenomenal if you haven’t seen it already. Get your Gorefest tickets soon – we’ve already sold 300 seats over our 10-night run. We will sell out every show before the first one opens. I will tell you until you believe me.

Fighting off a cold and debating my choice the whole way, I took the train to Boston College to watch the anticipated BC/VTech game. BC’s football team, in the finest tradition of BC superfans, showed up 10 minutes late to the game, allowing VTech a commanding lead in the first quarter. Then they turned on the heat, relying on sloppy play by Tyrod Taylor to carry the Eagles to victory.

I go to these games to socialize as much as to cheer, of course. I enjoyed catching up with Joe C., fighting the good fight against juvenile offenders in New Jersey (he flashed his DA badge for us on request). J Lee made the trip out from Worcester and showed up already stammering drunk, asking me three times where in Somerville I lived (“Davis Square? That’s the most happening square in Somerville”). And I met Lauren, a/k/a Toast, a CCE alumna and BC grad, class of 2008. It’s weird, meeting people who graduated in May of this year and realizing I occupy, in their chronology, the place that people like Ryan Howe occupy in mine. I’m an old, old man.

in the streets I’m well known like the number man

I went out drinking with coworkers on Friday – George, A.A., Z. and a handful of others. The notion of enjoying myself with the people I work with, especially outside the context of the office, still hasn’t settled in my brain yet. We watched the Phillies knock one out against the Dodgers, then stuck around for a bit of the Sox game. A bearded guy played acoustic guitar during commercial breaks; George got his business card.

I needed a night of dancing to take the edge off the week, so I called an all-play at the Common Ground and a small crew answered: Mike P., Flannery and some friends of theirs. As it turned out, BC alumna Meghan W. and Marie C. also had a crew of their own present; a massive dance party quickly ensued. The BC kids were largely CCE vets, as well as one or two current CCE members. It’s odd thinking of myself as some dimly known figure from the ancient days, which I am to anyone who cares. It’s also odd that people born in 1986 can drink without legal hindrance, as some of those kids clearly were.

Saturday began the first in my series of constant rehearsals this week, as we all showed up at ImprovBoston to warble through some songs and run the show once. Don S., the show’s typical director, poked his head in on several occasions to watch key songs and scenes. I spent about an hour afterward sifting through used clothes at the Garment District and the Davis Sq. Goodwill in search of a Halloween costume, with no luck. I may end up buying an old coat and a few cans of spray paint.

Jodi texted me an emergency request for carbs and Red Sox, so we rendezvoused at Joshua Tree. We eventually lost patience with the game night crowd – “Standing Room Townie,” you might call it – and shifted to Orleans, where we caught up through the 9th inning with her friends Jeff and Armando. Jodi wolfed down most of a plate of chicken rigatoni, in preparation for her half-marathon on Sunday, but wouldn’t finish her Guinness. She did not get to join the Clean Glass Club.

Did you know that the Hong Kong in Harvard Sq hosts more than just an unpredictable stand-up night on Sundays? That the upstairs turns into a trashy college-kid rave, complete with Top 40 songs, glow sticks and $4 Budweiser, on Saturday nights? Neither did I! What have I been doing all this time? I gave Jeff and Armando a ride there, then stuck around to dance with them and some of their friends for a bit. A shirtless guy in tuxedo pants waved an inflatable sledgehammer on stage while Harvard girls twirled neon bracelets and Limbo’d under pool noodles. At some point I lost patience and wandered back to my car.

I had been keeping myself up with the use of 5-Hour Energy Shots on Friday and Saturday night, since following beers with niacin megadoses can’t be that bad for you. As a result, I started to crash pretty hard on Sunday afternoon, around hour five of the Gorefest dance rehearsal. Skipping breakfast probably didn’t help. Or dinner the night before. Or eating that fudgy cupcake filled with peanut butter, but come on! Fudgy cupcake! Filled with peanut butter!

The entertaining conclusion: I missed the Davis Square stop on the subway ride home and had to turn around at Alewife and passed out for thirty brief minutes when I dragged my ass back to my apartment. Regaining consciousness, I somehow heated up a pizza in the oven without setting the building on fire and ate it, along with some garlic toast and cottage cheese, at a reasonable dinnertime hour. The nap and the dinner combined to give me a second wind around 11:30 PM, just about the time I wanted to go to bed.

I think I have some normal weekends on the calendar for November. Maybe later.

gimme two minutes on the decks to freak out

Truck stop discovery on the route back from NYC: disposable DVDs. Seriously. You buy the DVD for $4 and it only plays for a couple of days. Then it becomes useless and you throw it out! I don’t quite know how to feel about it.

I went from South Station immediately to Central Square for some Gorefest rehearsal, apologizing to the cast for smelling like “bus depot.” While half the cast rehearsed music, Paul D., Robert W., Bryce and I followed Claire down the road to Goodwill for some costumes. I found some suitable shirts for my character and Paul found a zip-up track jacket that worked perfectly for his character.

“There’s a bit of a hole in it,” observed some random stranger. “They’ve got another one that’s good, though.” And he pulled an identical zip-up track jacket from deeper in the rack. Paul and Robert put them on as soon as we left the store and marched down the street with their hips out. Pics forthcoming.

I rested at home for a few hours before limping out to Steve G’s place in Arlington to record the demo tracks for the Gorefest CD. Despite my heavy exhaustion I felt in good voice – the songs lie comfortably in my range and I projected with energy. Steve only had to go to the Pitch Corrector, the menu option that makes Britney’s flat warbles sound like magic, three or five times. I consider that a success.