The Background Actor’s Lament


I had a background acting gig to go to yesterday morning at 7:45, so instead of going to the bar like I do every Tuesday night, I stayed home and drank a bottle of dark beer. I thought it would help me get to sleep, but there was to be no sleeping on this beer or this night. I was wide awake for hours after my head hit the pillow, my mind going in circles about needing just 6 hours of sleep, then 5 was acceptable, then 4, then 3, then anything. It was like trying to fall asleep with a pistol to your head. I talked to someone later who had the same problem that night and said the full moon had something to do with it. Anyway, by 3 a.m. my thoughts had grown murderous. I thought about taking my rage out on the mattress. I probably would’ve if Erica wasn’t sleeping next to me. I threw the blankets around, kept changing positions. Finally, about an hour before I had to wake up, I nodded off. It wasn’t a deep sleep. I dreamt about people from my long-distant past. People who brought me much pain way back when but now seem more like figments of my imagination. Did they even exist in the first place?

I rode my bicycle to the address where the filming was supposed to take place. I say supposed to intentionally. They’d given us the wrong address. We’d been sent to some random apartment building in Friedrichshain, and before we found out we’d been misdirected, we stood around in a circle scratching our asses. There were about 10 of us, and one of the extras, it turned out, was from Titusville, Florida. Have you ever been to Titusville? I haven’t. Do you know anything about it? I don’t (even AFTER looking at its Wiki page). Its representative was about 50, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap with a dark hoodie pulled over it and a few long clumps of gray hair sticking out the sides. He was talking to another extra when I first overheard him, saying something about how 6 years ago he’d gotten a German woman pregnant at a commune in Nicaragua, and that’s why he was in Germany. He said he worked here as an office masseuse, i.e. he showed up at offices and gave people massages – he didn’t massage the offices themselves, as far as I know. He talked like one of those white guys who wants to sound ghetto but can’t pull it off. No, it wasn’t looking good for Titusville…

After standing around for about 20 minutes, we got the address where the filming actually took place. It was about 20 minutes away by bicycle. I rode alongside three other extras, and we got there at about 8:30 a.m. The role I was to play was a patron at a Karaoke bar, and I brought along two sets of clothes for the casting people to choose from. Easy. It’s always good when you get to wear your own clothes as opposed to some of the god-awful clown suits they throw at you. They’re always ill-fitting. The shoes pinch, the trousers grab wrong about the ass and crotch, the shirts are stitched together cattywampus so that one sleeve’s a good inch longer than the other and the neck chokes like a hangman’s noose. And if that’s not enough, they epoxy your lip and stick a fake mustache to it that falls off whenever you smile. That’s  my experience anyway.

After changing in the costume trailer, I got a double espresso at the other trailer, where the breakfast food was being served. Then I found out that trailer wasn’t for us extras. We had our own trailer and there was coffee in it… if you want to call it coffee. I sat on the curb outside of it and sipped my espresso, waiting for something to happen. I didn’t have to wait long. With the morning sun at his back and a long shadow in front of him, here came my Titusville buddy. He was no longer wearing his Unibomber disguise. He’d let his hair down and was donning (not wearing – some things you can only don) a black t-shirt with a Greywolf screen-printed on the front of it. The shirt looked like something they sell among cases of Monster energy drink and used razor blades at some backalley Slavakian bazaar. The shirt was his, not the casting people’s. It was his idea.

“Where’d you get the coffee?” he asked.
I pointed to the trailer, but said it was a mistake. I said the coffee for the extras is in the extra trailer.
“We get the mud,” he said, bitterly. “They don’t care about us.”
He lit a crooked cigarette.
He continued: “They treat us like dawgs, that’s what it is.”
I sipped my espresso and sat there in the morning sun. A few minutes later, they called us all into the bar.
He was still complaining. “Daawgs they treat us like, that’s what it is right there.”
I told him he should’ve worn a shirt with a dog on it instead of a wolf, it would‘ve been perfect.
He didn’t laugh.

The shooting only lasted a few hours. It was cake. All I did was stand at the bar, drink beer from a bottle and watch the stage, clapping when prompted. Then, in the end, we were served lunch. Pasta with no meat or vegetables, just the sauce. And you know my Titusville friend had to register some complaints. I was waiting for it.

“It’s daaaaaaawgs they treat us like,” he kept saying.
But he did go back for seconds.

Daytripping through Brandenburg


Yesterday, our friends Gregor Gregorov & the lovely L drove Erica and me to a little town called Lübbenau, which is about an hour southeast of Berlin, in the Oberspreewald-Lausitz district of Brandenburg. I’d never heard of the place before but was immediately struck by the charm of the old buildings and churches, the castle, the apple trees, the biergartens and most of all by the miles and miles of gorgeous canals in the area. The first thing we did when we got there was go on an hour and a half Kahnfahrt (boat tour) with a portly old Lübbenauer rowing and babbling away on the back. I say babbling away because he spoke so haphazardly and at such a rapid and blithering clip, with such a heavy Sachsen accent, I had to really concentrate to even get even a slight gist of what he was saying. Luckily, I had a beer and a plate of Spreewald pickles (the local specialty), to keep me from feeling too demoralized.

After the Kahnfahrt, we went to the market in the center of that town of 18,000 and sampled the pickles and mustard in the little stands. Then we got beers and some delicious fish sandwiches and sat at a table overlooking the passers-by. German tourists, mostly. White, comfortable, content-looking, safe, but representative of a declining population. Germans just weren’t reproducing like they did in the old days. It was a money thing. It just wasn’t practical anymore to have babies, hence the need for refugees. But the refugees all seemed to get sent to cities like Berlin. Anyway, there was nothing for them in Brandenburg. Brandenburg was drying up. The center wouldn’t hold. Lübbenau had lost almost 1/3 of its residents since 1971, despite its beautiful canals, architecture, beer, pickles, so forth. There was no work there. The center wouldn’t hold.

We visited two other towns in that area yesterday. The first was called Fürstlich Drehna, and we went there seeking game. It was Gregor’s idea. My birthday was August 11th, the day before, and he had offered to buy me game at this restaurant with a carved wooden deer’s bust hung on the outside wall. Unfortunately, it had closed at 5 p.m., about an hour before we arrived. We got out of the car anyway and walked up to the castle that was nearby. The castle was 500 years old, and there was a moat around it, and a field of dry grass and a forest in the distance and sunflowers dying in the heat. On the other side, there was a little brewery that been there since 1853. We walked around the castle and past the brewery, but there wasn’t much to say about either. We were hungry and needed beer. We headed to the next town.

The town was called Luckau and it was full of pretty houses and towers and cathedrals and cobblestone streets, but the main square was empty, and the restaurant we wanted to go to was closed. Everything looked closed in that jerkwater town but a place on the corner that probably wanted to be a pizzeria but had spelled it incorrectly on the sign. They’d spelled it PIZZARIA. That was the first red flag. Never trust a place that doesn’t know how to spell the thing it claims to be. We got out of the car and stood in front looking over the menu. The menu was the second red flag. It didn’t just offer Italian food, the PIZZARIA also specialized in Greek food, German food, and Indian food of all things. The term Jack of all trades, master of none floated through my mind. But people were hungry, and the next town was miles away. We got a table out front under an umbrella and sat there gazing at sun coming down on the desolate marketplace. We ordered beers. They came. They came warm. Nothing good ever came out of warm beer on a hot summer day, and these were as warm as a Sulphur miner’s ass. But we forced them back anyway and ordered. We ordered schnitzels. We figured it would be trickier for a German to shit the bed making schnitzel than Greek, Italian or Indian food. And we may have been right, but the schnitzels were bad. They were furchtbar, as the Germans say. They were as furchtbar as a Sulphur miner’s ass on a hot summer day. But we forged through it nonetheless, and I didn’t complain. I didn’t have the right. It was my birthday dinner and Gregor was paying for it. He thought the food was furchtbar too. The moral: never go to a place that doesn’t know how to spell what it is & represents four different countries. Nothing good ever comes of it. Still, I am thankful to my friends for a lovely day. I haven’t had a car since I moved to Berlin and hardly ever get out of the city.

On Empathy & the So-Called Gray City


They call Berlin the Gray City, but ever since April it’s been sunny here pretty much every day, and the heat for the past couple of weeks had been almost unbearable. Luckily, my un-air-conditioned flat is on the ground floor and faces a canyon of buildings and a shady garden, so it stays relatively cool when the windows are open, even on the hottest days. Two days ago, however, the temperature reached 37° (98.6 Fahrenheit), and there was no breeze whatsoever, so the open windows didn’t do anything. We shut them at nightfall to keep out the garden wasps and mosquitos, and when it was time to go to sleep I took out my son’s new aluminum baseball bat and rolled it over my chest and cradled it like it was a woman, trying to absorb the coolness of it. It helped for about a minute. It also made Erica a little jealous. No one wants to be replaced by a 25 oz. baseball bat.

Anyway, all this heat and sunshine is not what I signed up for when I moved to Berlin. Give me soft gray clouds. Give me icy winds blowing through the bell tower of an ancient cathedral. Give me snow, gloom, grim German faces and days that go dark at 4 p.m. and stay dark until 8 a.m. Give me the opposite of Florida, that’s what I signed up for.

I have had so much going on the past two months, that I’ve hardly had time to write. This past week what kept me away was being with my five-year-old son A. I was with him for 4 days straight, most of which was spent out of the heat and in my flat. It’s a tiny flat (54 square meters/581 square feet), so we’re on top of each other most of the time, literally. His favorite pastime & default is to jump and climb and dance on me, pouncing me into the bed. He’d punish me like that for hours if he could, but I give myself a break by giving him some TV, which, btw, he calls TB. „I want TB!!“ I only let him watch 2 hours per day. Yes, I am a taskmaster. The rest of the time we are drawing or watercolor painting together, doing numbers and letters, I’m reading fairy tales to him, or we go to the playground and I try to get him interested in baseball and soccer and basketball, though most of the time he’d rather dig for worms. Organized sports don’t interest him yet. I say yet because I know they will one day. He’s athletic and has too competitive a nature for it to be otherwise.

Another trait of his I have noticed (and his mother has too) is an unusual amount of empathy. We first started seeing signs of it when he was 2, which in a way is great – you couldn’t ask for a more loving, caring, affectionate little boy – but in another way, for him, maybe it won’t be so great. Empathy is often a curse for the cupbearer of it, especially if it’s coupled with the temperament of an artist. Which is where people like Kleist and Van Gogh and Sylvia Plath come in. They felt the world too deeply and too earnestly to be able to survive it.

But I have confidence A. will figure out how to appropriate & disseminate what needs it.

Sometimes the best thing to do – the thing most suicides forget – is to keep reminding yourself that none of this is really happening.

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.” ~ Shakespeare

So don’t worry about what other people are doing, what they’re achieving, or even if they are suffering; walk with a light heart, an easy laugh, and whatever you do, don’t be serious.




A Welsh Wedding (or Atonement with the Father)…


It was 36° (96.8° Fahrenheit), the hottest day of the year in the UK, and I was there for a Wedding in Wales, but stayed the first night at Erica’s parents’ house in a town called Staines-upon-Thames. The town is just outside London, and the house, like most on that continent, had no air conditioning, which I knew would be a problem for me when it came to sleeping. I’m one of those people who needs perfect conditions re: light, temperature & sound to be able to fall asleep, so I prepared by drinking gin and tonic, taking a Xanax and setting up a fan in Erica’s bedroom. We couldn’t open the windows because there was a semi-busy street out front and the sounds of Heathrow overhead.

12 a.m.

We shed our clothes, turn the lights off and get in her small, double bed. I am a little too tall for the bed, that’s the first problem. My feet are jammed into the rails at the foot, so I angle myself as best I can, trying not to touch or be touched by Erica. Her body feels like plutonian fire against mine, but that doesn’t seem to bother her, nor does the clammy air. She falls asleep right away (as usual), and I (as usual) am wide awake, eyes agape, mapping light and shadow on the ceiling. It’s as if the Xanax had the reverse effect. My mind is buzzing like a malfunctioning toaster oven, there’s a strange and powerful energy in the center of me, and the sheets under me are pooling with sweat. I grab the water glass off the nightstand, tilt the cold water onto my chest and belly and spread it around with my hands. It cools me down for a few minutes, but then it evaporates and I’m sweating my balls off again, worried about being up all night and the whole next day being trashed.

2 a.m.

I am still awake. It’s like lying on the inside of a sardine can, and the fan hasn’t done any good. It just blows around hot air. If I can just get 4 hours of sleep, I tell myself, I’ll be okay for the trip to Wales and all the wedding stuff tomorrow. 4 hours. 6 a.m. Wake up time’s about 8. I have time. I consider my last, desperate resort – jerking off. It works when nothing else does, usually. It has sleep-inducing qualities. But I’d have to do it very quietly and with as little movement as possible, even at the point of orgasm. I don’t want to shake the bed too much and wake up Erica. I think about what to think about for a while gathering  old material, then I reconsider. It’s no good. All masturbating will do is raise my body temperature, I tell myself. So I anoint myself with more water and sometime after that I slip into dreaming about Cadillac Eldorados and Michelangelo.


It took about 3.5 hours to get there from Staines. We drove with Erica’s parents, and stayed at a B & B in a little village called Porthyrhyd. Don’t ask me how that’s pronounced. Wales is a marvel for towns and villages you can’t pronounce. Cwmisfael, Penrhiwgoch & Mynydd Cerrig were a few of the ones nearby, and Erica’s cousin’s reception was to be held in a place called Llanddarog. The hotel we stayed at was a stone structure with a restaurant and bar on the ground floor and rooms on the floor above. It was built in 1785, and the walls were very thin, almost non-existent. From the bathroom, you could hear your neighbor on the toilet, and vice versa. But at least it was cool. It was cloudy when we arrived, and the temp had plunged to 20° (68° Fahrenheit). We unpacked, relaxed on the bed for a while, and about a half hour before dinner, went out to see what the village was all about. There wasn’t much to it. There was a road going up a hill. There were stone houses and grassy knolls and farms of grazing cattle and sheep. There was a beautiful little stony creek, fields of high yellow grass divided by clumps of dark-green trees, an occasional blackbird, and the green rolling hills in the distance. It was exactly how I’d pictured Wales and I found it charming in a way, but in another way, as we walked up the hill, it made me want to die. The country does that to me sometimes. The vast open spaces, empty roads heading off to nowhere, the sound of the wind, dust clouds, the beautiful monotonous landscape gaping back at you and saying nothing. I wanted to go out into it and die right then, but instead we walked to the top and stood there for a while. What would you do if you lived here besides drink ale in the pub? I asked Erica as we were on our way back. She didn’t know either, so we went to a pub and drank ale.

Wedding Day

It hadn’t rained in 2 months in the UK but started pissing it down (as the Brits say) just when it was time to go to the church for the ceremony. When we arrived, it was hailing and raining, and we sat in the car watching it pelt the windshield, waiting for it to let up. Erica’s cousin was the groom, by the way. His name was James and the bride’s was Laura, and the reason they were getting married at that church in far-off Wales was because Laura’s father had been interred there in 1990, a few months before she was born. Not sure how he died, but it was probably the most emotional wedding I’ve ever been to. Laura was weeping from the moment she entered the church and could barely make it through her vows without choking up. I almost choked up too, truth be told. Strange considering I didn’t know Laura, I’d only met James a few times, and I’d always thought weddings were kind of ridiculous. Not strange considering it wasn’t just a wedding between James and Laura, but a spiritual wedding in deep Wales between a father and daughter who were never lucky enough to get to know each other. This was probably the closest thing to it, and the hail, and the rain – that too seemed like a gift – not so much to us wedding-goers, but to the parched grass in churchyard. Nourishment for the dead.