i jumped off of the 1 train at 18th street the other day in the early afternoon and headed west, on my way to the nyc discmakers offices near 5th avenue for an impromptu meeting about my newly released cd. my mind was flush with a long list of questions and suggestions and situations that i kept reconfiguring as i neared my destination, like a jigsaw puzzle that wouldn't leave me alone. it was cold and sunny, which always aggravates me. the heat of the sun never seems to penetrate the iciness of the day -- and in the end, its all just one big miserable tease that leaves me yearning for the unyielding warmth of the south and a home i would never see again, a home that is alive and well, inside me.
what was i wearing? a hat with ears on it. snow pants, of course. and underneath it all, my gym clothes. as a fledgling pugilist, i have very little upper body strength and even less endurance. so i run and lift weights to boost my staying power. the truth is, most days in boxing class find me leaning against a wall like a cripple and gasping for breath, my heart pounding in my chest like thunder, every beat a sonic boom that reverberates so heavily through the rest of my body, it rattles my teeth. i am pushing myself to my limit. in these moments, my instructor george never looks at me sideways - much to his credit. because he's pushing me, too.
the other day he said to me, "there's no such thing as fighting like a girl. either you can fight or you can't." then he turned waved his arm towards the rest of the class and continued nonchalantly. "hitting isn't gender specific. you think all these guys came in here knowing how to hit?" and with that, he snorted and made a face. "no," he said flatly. "they came in here hitting like you." and with that, i twisted at my hips, pushed my foot forward and gave him a solid left hook that made his face light up with pleasure. now, that was a good day.
when it's all over, i congratulate myself for making it all the way through yet another round. my arms are so weak, i can hardly lift them. it hurts my ribs to take a deep breath. i can hear the blood rushing through my veins as i ask myself, when am i going to get better at this? and then i realize i'm getting stronger. and leaner. i just have to stick with it. that's usually the hard part.
so there i was, thinking about discmakers and what i was going to tell these people and what they were going to tell me, thinking about my left hook and my right cross, thinking about running a mile in less than 10 minutes. thinking about a hot shower afterwards and exfoliating and sitting in the steam room until my muscles melted and my beloved moroccan oil. thinking about finding a piano tuner. thinking about how i couldn't afford the mezcal i really wanted and thinking maybe ralph would split it with me so i could at least have some in my leather-bound flask that lives in my purse, for an emergency cocktail now and then. thinking about my chinese acupuncturist. thinking about kwanzaa presents i have to finish. thinking about the boxing gloves i'd get from modell's the following week. thinking and thinking and thinking. and listening to music. t-connection, i believe it was. don't let nobody tell ya what to do, gotta be your judge and the jury too...
i didn't get far.
i was passing this velvet roped off situation on 18th street between 6th avenue and 7th avenue in some wide open space that's usually got some shin-dig going on. there were two or three people out there, waving me down like they were hitchhikers on some deserted stretch of highway. what fresh hell is this, i wondered. i yanked out my earphones and got an earful.
they were talking over each other, they were babbling and they were saying it in different ways, but they were basically saying the same thing: come inside and audition for this commercial! one of them looked like edith bunker, which made me smile faintly. and that probably made me look agreeable but nothing could have been further from the truth. the truth is, something in me recoiled instinctively at the very idea of auditioning for a commercial in the visual state that i was in. because getting cast in a commercial has everything to do with what you look like. in most cases, the prettier you are, the better - but you can get away with not being pretty if you're actually funny. and yeah, being funny is usually what gets me the gig. and it was the only thing that had me seriously thinking about going past those velvet ropes. i had to be funny because i had absolutely not one shred of makeup on my person. not even cover stick. i didn't have bags under my eyes. i had luggage. (who wears makeup to the gym? wait - don't answer that...)
on the other hand, i wasn't going to blow off any opportunity to get seen for anything. so with all that in mind, and all that other stuff flying through my head like rainbow-colored confetti, i went inside.
it was an auditon for a progressive commercial. they were looking for an assistant for flo. yeah, that's right. that's the dark-haired, wise-cracking, wide-eyed, wiggy looking white chick that's so excited to sell you car/home/pet insurance. everyone, and i mean everyone was dressed like flo, from the coat check girl to the magnetic name tag girl to the girl on headset who gave me a goody bag and a card with instructions on it, and answered all of my stupid questions. white button down short sleeved shirt, white oversized overalls, white sneakers. white, white, white. actually, the whole set was white, white, white - like i'd just stepped onto the set of the commercial itself. everything was roped off just so, so you'd move through the room like a hamster in a habitrail.
it was a space odyssey 2000 meets a boy and his dog. yeah, something like that. at this point, i didn't know if i was the boy or the dog. probably both.
as it turns out, they were holding auditions at hotspots all over the country. i had 30 seconds to tell them why i should be flo's assistant. i had to end with the phrase, "now that's progressive." hm. the more i thought about it, the more i didn't want to come off like my man friday to her robinson crusoe - or any number of variations therein. at this point in the habitrail, there was a perfect replica of the progressive commercial's set, with three white director's chairs all in a row - complete with a white director, who looked very el lay and the right kind of frumpy and bored and annoyed (can you frump in armani?), set in front of a long white table and then there were a small set of stairs that led to three white booths in a row with cameras and recording equipment that boomed your audition all over the room, so whenever anyone started, everyone stopped scurrying and kind of went on pause for a sec, to hear what you were throwing down. especially the other actors and stand up comedians and whatnots who were trailing in, trying hard to look like ordinary street people, smelling of desperation.
i took all of 17 seconds. i didn't plan what i said, i just blurted out whatever rose to the surface first. i do remember that i made the director laugh. and clap his hands. and when i left, i told that hipster looking black guy at the door what i said - an actor that i instantly recognized from way too many national commercials as "that hipster looking black guy," the one who wears those squared off black glasses and is ALWAYS the only black friend in a group of hipster white people and who always looks bored and kind of over it - and he laughed and gave me this massive high five. and then i strolled down the street like miss black america, laughing and waving at him. good times.
as it turns out, that impromptu audition was just the boost i needed to get through that meeting with discmakers. and that workout. and boxing conditioning class.
if you want to see and hear what i threw down, click here. and if you want to kill some time at your desk job, check out the other auditions. they're kind of a hoot.