Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Graduation Day!

No more homework. No more books.
No more teachers’ dirty looks.

Kevin graduated.

It wasn’t easy. We thought he was going to have to take the canine version of the G.E.D.

Kevin’s academic career was checkered, to say the least. On day one the teacher pegged him as a trouble maker. He flunked Butt Sniffing 101; he had no interest in socializing with his classmates. We arranged for a tutor - Happy (of Cheaper by the Dozen fame)- to help him learn how to ‘play well with others’. Within a couple lessons Kevin was able to participate in recess without inflicting injury on his classmates.

Kevin was also challenged by the sit-stay command. It was by the skin of his needle teeth that he passed ‘Sit-Stay’ with a D-. He did quite well in ‘Leave It’, but he nearly flunked ‘Drop It’. His success in ‘Drop It’ is strongly correlated with the item he is to told to drop. Dropping a dry, unappetizing chew stick in class is one thing, but dropping a used Kleenex at home is quite different. And dropping a dead frog on a walk is near impossible. Thankfully, the ‘Drop It’ final exam utilized the dry, unappetizing chew stick and he eked by with a C.

Kevin’s juvenile delinquency was also a challenge. He wouldn’t sit still and liked to talk back to the teacher. Doggie detention didn’t seem to help. It wasn’t until the resource officer had a little talk with him about his future career in jail (and that he’d better hold on to the soap) that his attitude changed.

At any rate, Kevin has achieved what others thought impossible. He graduated from Puppy Kindergarten. His graduation ceremony went very well….except for the little gift he left in the aisle before receiving his diploma.

Oh well. Just a harmless graduation prank.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Making Happy happy

There are a dozen kids in Cheaper by the Dozen. Actually, a case of kids, if you consider that the show was double cast. The director also double cast the show’s dog, who is played by actors Happy and Palin.

Last night was opening night and Happy was on the roster. Everything went well, except for one problem. Happy wasn’t happy.

Chapin Community Theatre’s back-stage is very small. Happy is kept in a crate in the 2-foot wide back-stage area. Although there’s a very nice cushion in the crate for Happy to lie on, the crate does not make Happy happy.

And when Happy is not happy he wimpers.

It is hard enough to keep a 12-pack of children quiet back stage. Happy’s unhappy wimpering makes this even more of a challenge.

Now, truth be told, I’m not the only one trying to keep the 12-pack quiet. There are wonderful parent volunteers who do an excellent job in that regard. And Happy also gets help from the 12-pack. At any given time there are scores of hands petting him through the crate.

Last night when Happy’s wimpering became particularly pathetic I took him out of the cage and held him on my lap. It made Happy unhappier.

Happy is happiest when we take him outside. But I’m unhappy when I take Happy outside because it’s about 20 degrees out there. And the director would not be happy if Happy were happily outside and missed his entrance onstage.

One of the Moms found a way to make Happy happy last night. She started feeding him cookies that another parent brought in for the cast. It worked. I’m betting that a glass of milk will make him even happier.

Maybe I’ll slip in some Kahlua. That always makes me happy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Press 1 For Irritation!

I recently received a letter from Mammograms R Us (name changed to protect the innocent) informing me that I had an overdue bill. The letter was terse and threatened to send my name to a collection agency. Clearly, the company had not properly filed the claim with my insurance company. There was a phone number on the letter, so I attempted to call to get the problem resolved.

When I call a company with a problem, like most people, I would rather speak to a person than a robot-and preferably one who speaks English. But not surprisingly, Mammograms R Us had a voice recognition unit--- a robot I shall call Myrna.

(Although I occasionally take the liberty of exaggerating in my blog, exaggeration was not necessary here.)

Myrna started by asking me to key in my account number, reminding me that the account number consisted of a series of letters and numbers. How very nice of Myrna to help me easily find that account number! I keyed in STM234.

Here’s where the trouble starts:

Myrna: “You entered 786234. If this is correct, press 1”

I took 4 years of Spanish and can remember 3 words: si (yes), no (no) and cerveza (beer). Expecting me to remember that STM translates to 786 in phone-pad-ese is asking way too much. I took a leap of faith and pressed 1.

Myrna then asked for my date of birth, and repeated it back to me and said “If this is correct, press 1”. She did the same thing for my zip code, my street number, my IQ and my shoe size (sorry…. couldn’t resist).

Then came the fun part.

Myrna: “Please say the name of your insurance carrier”.

Me: “Cigna”

Myrna: “You said ----(insert my voice) ‘Cigna’. If this is correct press 1”

I thought….OK, that’s my voice saying Cigna. Why would I not press 1? If I pressed 2 would I be accusing myself of lying?

On his closing night, Conan O’Brien advised his audience not to be cynical and that the way to get ahead in life is to be nice. I took Conan’s advice and pressed 1.

Myrna: “Please say the address of your insurance carrier”

Me: “Are you kidding? It’s Cigna!! I don’t know the address”

Myrna: “You said…Are you kidding? It’s Cigna!! I don’t know the address’. If this is correct, press 1.”

I pressed 1.

Myrna: “Please say the zip code of your insurance carrier.”


Myrna: “You said ‘FORGET IT! I’LL CALL BACK WHEN I CAN TALK TO A LIVE PERSON.’ If this is correct, press 1."

I pressed 1.

Then I hung up.

I think I’m going to program my own personal voice recognition system for when the collection agency starts calling.

If you are calling to give me money press 1.
If you are calling to ask for my money, please press the square root of 4,985,999 times 356 divided by the standard deviation of 145,359,539,100, and 400 times pi.

We’ll see how far they get.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Becoming Miss Brill

When I get cast in a role I need inspiration for my character.

When I played the Stepmother in Cinderella, my inspiration was Endora, the mother-in-law, from Bewitched. My Aunt Mary provided the inspiration for Doris in Damn Yankees. And my portrayal of Louise in Play On was modeled after Ralph Monroe, the sister half of Green Acres’ carpenters Ralph & Alph.

In Cheaper by the Dozen I play Miss Brill, a strict, inflexible teacher with no love for children. Tiffany, our director, suggested I consider modeling my character after The Wizard of Oz’s bicycle riding Elmira Gulch.

But Elmira Gulch is way too sweet.

I thought about stopping by the DMV to see if I could shadow Ursula the DMV Witch for a few hours (see earier post- 10/10/09), but frankly, the proposition was too frightening. I mean, this is community theatre! If it were a feature movie with a $250 million budget, I might consider risking my life. Sorry, Tiffany.

So, I was looking for a character with the following characteristics: acrid, pungent, bitter, choking, sharp, unpleasant, harsh, sharp, cutting, caustic, vitriolic, mordant, trenchant, sour, tart, biting, and acerbic. (OK, I admit it. I visited thesaurus.com.)

Then I remembered Mrs. Crouse, my old (literally) 5th grade teacher. Mrs. Crouse, like Miss Brill had no love for children. She was about 75 years old and had sky blue hair. And she was acrid, pungent, bitter, choking, sharp, unpleasant, harsh, sharp, cutting, caustic, vitriolic, mordant, trenchant, sour, tart, biting, and acerbic!

Mrs. Crouse called me Mary Louise the entire school year. About once every few months I’d get the nerve to approach her about this.

“Mrs. Crouse, can you please call me Mary Lou?”
“Please take a seat, Mary Louise.”

We students were terrified of Mrs. Crouse. She had a very commanding voice, yet she never yelled. If fact, when she got angry at the class (which was often), she would lower her voice to a whisper.

“Listen up, you nasty little people. For homework do questions 1-349 – odd numbers only. If I hear one peep out of you, you will do the even numbered questions during recess tomorrow. And if you don’t finish up during recess, you will work through lunch.”

By the end of the school year we could read lips better than Anne Sullivan.

Reliving these memories in order to become Miss Brill has resulted in a rare strain of traumatic stress syndrome. But I’m an actor, and I am willing to make such sacrifices.

And I will be a better Brill as a result of reliving these memories. I will be an acrid, pungent, bitter, choking, sharp, unpleasant, harsh, sharp, cutting, caustic, vitriolic, mordant, trenchant, sour, tart, biting, and acerbic Miss Brill.

I just hope I don’t scare the children too much.