Friday, October 27, 2006

go-go girl

go-go girl

still learning how to use my digital camera. i know this one is blurry but i like the way it looks like an abstract painting. and it captures her mood. taking pictures all the time is changing the way i see the world. fortunately the burlesque dancers at the slipper room are wonderful guinea pigs. i want a new digital camera that's small and that can capture movement better than this one.

the photo above taken at the slipper room the other night. i was running around with renee and she brought kwame and terrence along. all of us, musical theater folk. all of them, still working in musicals -- renee got the color purple national tour, terrence is going to japan to do RENT in a few weeks and kwame is doing a revival of a musical that made eartha kitt famous in the 50's (i can't remember the name of it, for some reason) -- and me, with my first national commercial under my belt, transitioning away from musicals and plays and moving towards on-camera work. where would we be in a year? three years? five? as we laughed and had fun, a part of me could only wonder.

renee, me, kwame & terrence

we had a screamingly good time. we sat right in front and took in a great show. for only five bucks, it's the best deal in town. i love the theatricality, the campiness, the storytelling, the style. it's always a treat to watch burlesque with dancers. they have such insight. and of course, there's so much respect for the craft -- because it's all movement. and besides, a lot of those burlesque girls used to be bun-heads. they know exactly what they're doing.

i went to the bodega down the street before the show started and my friend made me hot toddys all night long. and then on the break, we went outside to cool off and had popsicles, and then kwame and terrence skipped off to a gay bar.

our happy days are numbered. renee skips town in late december. we have to squeeze in as much fun as we possibly can.

Monday, October 23, 2006

top ten stuff i want NOW

  1. a clean, fixed-up, tricked out, well-organized, roommate-less apartment
  2. oversleep
  3. a big baby taylor
  4. bikini boot camp
  5. more guitar lessons with james "blood" ulmer
  6. my grandmother's recipe for oxtail soup
  7. a trip to rome or paris with my friend (he's never been to europe)
  8. endless time with a personal trainer/pilates instructor
  9. that great recipe for chocolate sour cream cake that i lost somewhere in my apartment
  10. two weeks hanging out all over texas -- sitting in, seeing friends, sipping mescal and eating nothing but world-class tex-mex every single solitary day

Sunday, October 22, 2006

dreaming is free

i missed spa week, believe it or not. me, the girly girl that's practically addicted to the bliss hot milk and almond pedicure. well -- i almost missed it. i promised myself that after spending practically a week in plymouth, i would do something about my hands and feet, at least. they looked positively grubby. on saturday, i went to jeniette instead of the infamous taste of chinatown that i had soooo looked forward to for months on end (it still hurts a little to think about it) and made an afternoon of it -- a manicure and a pedicure ensued, followed by a pleasant sidebar with my favorite eyebrowist, who shaped my eyebrows so beautifully, i honestly believed i had a totally different and much improved look when she was finished. as i sauntered out the door, i almost felt like myself.

what did i need to get it all back? a full body exfoliation, massage and soak at juvenex. a basic facial from bliss or mario badescu. a three day fast and many, many shots of wheatgrass. some new black boots. a sunday stroll through MoMA with my friend on my arm. i settled for a good hard sweat in the gym, followed by a hot shower and some serious daydreaming. there was a lot to consider.

i had been slugging it out, auditioning like crazy for commercials and such for so long that it blindsided me to actually get one. sure, i wanted it to happen but when it finally did, i wouldn't let myself believe that it was actually mine until it was over. i wanted to shift towards film/tv/commercials as an actor, and away from theater/musicals -- unless i can originate work, of course -- and i wanted confirmation that the commercial route that i so doggedly pursued was the right one for me. i realize now, as i wait with some fairly righteous trepidation to see if it gets picked up after the editing process, that clearly i'm standing on the verge of the rest of my life. i've heard people talk about turning a corner but this is unreal. everything has changed.

i'm looking forward to the creative freedom that only money and time can give me. in the meantime, i'm ordering my thoughts and rearranging my goals and priorities. i've had my little dream come true. several, in fact. now it's time to dream something else.

Friday, October 20, 2006

a picture is worth a thousand words...

Justin and Henry 002

here i am in a cranberry bog outside of plymouth, massachusetts with henry and justin, shooting the ocean spray cranberry juice commercial yesterday -- my first national spot! do i look sublime or what? finally -- that sack of money with wings that i've been chasing with a butterfly net at every commercial audition/callback situation for God knows how long has finally landed in my lap...maybe. this isn't a go until its edited and the client okays it. i'll celebrate when that happens. until then, it's back to the old grindstone.

yes, i'm wearing a wet suit under my clothes. yes, it's clean crystal clear spring water. and yes --even though the sun is shining, it's cold, cold, cold.

more photos later.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

i wanna be your dog

listening to iggy and the stooges rip into "now i wanna be your dog" on and i'm wishing it was alejandro escovedo's acoustic version -- so i dug around on youtube and found a live performance. ah, modern technology. there's always something a live show can teach you. and now with a push of a button, school is in session:

this song is reminding me of some amateur burlesque i saw in williamsburg awhile ago with an ambitious co-ed in a furry head-to-toe dog outfit that stripped to the iggy version, complete with a black spiked dog collar and leash, electrical tape on her nipples and everything. there were a lot of girls that went up that night but for some reason -- was it the song or was it her dance? -- her performance stuck with me. later, i ran into her in the bathroom and gushed over what she did. she was trembling with so much nervousness, she could hardly take in what i was saying, so overwhelmed to have simply gotten through it. i am told that singing onstage is a different kind of naked -- but still and all, nudity isn't easy, no matter what form it takes.

of course murray hill was the mc. she's just as seedy as she ever was. i wonder who's the dirty little old man she's emulating? who inspired that? what a little empire she's carved out for herself since we met in the early 90's. she's a real sweetheart, too. really down to earth and drop dead funny. funny that she recognizes me after all this time. i think i'd be a great drag king but i wouldn't want to do it. i'd be way too into it, way too good at it -- because in my head, i'm a straight-up dude.

i remember thinking that this number was what neo-burlesque was all about and although i knew that i was that ballsy with my clothes on, i wondered if i could ever do the burlesque thing. my friend says he expressly forbids it. hm.

thinking of alejandro as i listened to iggy got me to thinking of other harder songs that could be covered acoustically. i suppose i'll mess around with some ideas as i get closer to the unplugged notions i've been toying with lately. but the iggy/alejandro example is a fine model -- and also quite tempting. i don't know about any other punk songs to unplug but something so familiar, so close would be a real kick.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

larry the lobster is my lonely girl dinner

of course, one of the things i was most looking forward to when i knew i was coming to boston was the fresh seafood. i wasn't disappointed. not by a long-shot.

the motel we're in is located on the verge of the water that's sprinkled with fishing boats and such, with seafood restaurants down the road a bit here and there that readjust their menus daily to sell the catch of the day. everything is clean and well-paved and within easy reach, and everything that's newly built maintains the general look of the architecture, circa 1850's or so, i'd guess. the internet cafe. the eateries. the little shops. there's plenty to do here: cranberry bogs (of course), whale watching (sounds exciting!) and there's plimoth plantation , a living history museum. what a good idea, i think -- and then i wonder if they'll ever do that down south and recreate what slavery was like for hundreds of millions of africans. exactly who would be the black folk to step in and show everyone how it all went down? (insert involuntary shudder here.)

when i got hungry enough, i went out in search of the perfect little meal. i called my friend to take him along on my little journey as i went from place to place, peering at menus and reading items to him aloud. after picking on me ("you're taking so long to make up your mind, the restaurants will be closed by the time you decide what you want!"), i settled on this:

dinner in plymouth, massachusetts

my friend called it my "lonely girl dinner" -- as opposed to hungry man, i guess.

does anyone remember "larry the lobster"? i thought about him fondly as i inhaled my little feast. sure, there were enough votes to keep lawrence alive. but what no one seems to remember is that eddie boiled him up anyway when he got a lot of hate mail from these racists somewhere in the midwest who accused him of killing larry anyhow. i remember him reading their letters on the air (pretty ballsy in light of the corporation he was working for, i think) and then, in a grand flourish, showing a boiled-up larry, brightly red, dressed up and ready to eat, when he was finished saying what he had to say. it was ultra-controversial. for a long time, i couldn't eat a lobster without thinking about larry.

oh, well. i guess larry and i are going to get down again tonight. when the lobster is this good and plentiful and cheap, what other option do i have?

i do miss my friend. i guess that's what makes it a lonely girl dinner -- i wish he was here to eat it with me and wander around afterwards. he's been going off lately about how much he wants to jump in a car and drive us to maine and eat lobster and other seafood goodies near a dock somewhere. i wonder how we'll pull that one off?

oh, and ps: the shoot is delayed by a day. the forecast said inclement weather, so it's a no-go. we'll do it on thursday and i'll be back in the city -- and back in the saddle again -- by thursday night.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

the adventure begins...

flew into boston monday afternoon and was swept away by a silver 15 passenger van to a bustling wireless production office in the heart of the city. the introductions around the room were rapid-fire and friendly and in no time at all, i was in the bathroom in my underwear, struggling to squeeze my way into the wetsuit that would keep me warm while i stood in a cranberry bog up to my bum and wisecracked with rednecks. it was sleeveless with a velcro closure on the left shoulder and it fought me all the way. i waddled into the adjoining room to murmurs of approval by the costume department. the wardrobe person was surprised at how quickly i got into it. so was i.

i was in and out of four or five outfits superfast and i was photographed and then those outfits were approved of or vetoed by the ocean spray powers that be. and so was my hair. (more on that later.) bang-bang-bang, just like that. in no time at all, the well-organized wardrobe room was emptied and i was in the front seat of that silver van again, on my way to where we'd be staying during the shoot -- plymouth, "the nation's hometown," according to the sign that let us know where we were as we entered the town.

it was about an hour south of boston, and it was cold, cold, cold. the p.a. took me to a nearby gigantic mega-walmart (aren't they all that big?), which made me strangely happy. i stocked my little fridge with juice and yogurt and fruit because i knew that i would be on hold the next day and that meant nothing to do and i didn't want to leave my room. for anything. i prayed for a wireless hook-up, cable tv and a decent sized tub. i was prepared for a nice long soak and i had the lush bath bombs to prove it. when we arrived at the governor bradford motor inn (how positively creepy!), i realized that two out of three ain't bad and i promptly sacked out like somebody drugged me.

the next day was spent oversleeping, reading that war book that's changing my life, writing in my journal and making lists incessantly, obsessively even. oh yeah. and there were a ton of phone calls. as usual.

bizarrely enough, i happen to know a lot about plymouth. something in me always wanted to come here and explore the place. it's one thing to read about this stuff, but it's an entirely different situation to physically wander through it, to have it unfold right before your eyes. i did a report about thanksgiving once in grade school that was supposed to be some sort of pat presentation that retold the story we've all heard. the problem was, i wasn't a "pat presentation" kind of a child. i kept digging for the truth behind the well-worn stories. and once i got past the revisionist dreck, i found it. frankly, it scared the living daylights out of me -- and everyone else in the classroom. i distinctly recall that my teacher, a rather glow-in-the-dark pasty middle-aged spinster type with a helmet-like modified spit-curled beehive to go with that unyielding personality of hers, a real live sourpuss who labeled me as "bossy" (the nerve!) was genuinely annoyed with me and pretty much labeled me a troublemaker after that. it was so well-researched, she didn't think i actually did it. boy, did that piss my mother off. after all, she was the one who taught me to read when i was three. a showdown ensued. but i digress.

do you think i'll find anything in plymouth about what really happened to cause the pilgrims to "give thanks" so profusely? because i don't.

the shoot happens on wednesday. wish me well, folks. wish me well.

Monday, October 16, 2006

joy, joy

this is what greeted us as we made our way down riverside drive from the george washington bridge -- the sun setting over new jersey. sometimes it's truly breathtaking, how beautiful it can be up here.

homecoming shot

as we zipped through the adirondacks in our spiffy rental van with wayne asleep in the backseat, i laughed and bounced around in the front seat with matt ray at the helm as we told stories and sang along to everything sirius radio's 70's channel could throw at us, marvelling at how we knew absolutely all of the lyrics to every single solitary song. as a matter of fact, the cheesier the song, the more on point we were. uncanny. it was cold and wet and gray outside but the fall foliage was like a house on fire. we glided through constant explosions of reds and yellows, with hills and mountains that shifted all around us, overwhelming our good time with moments of genuine awe and personal reflection that gave way to silence. why is it so easy to find God in nature? as the chorus to barry manilow's "i write the songs" modulated and soared, i realized that i was happy but what i felt was bigger than the glee that knows me when i'm having fun. there was something else there. it was joy.

happiness is a feeling. it comes and it goes. it's something you can choose. joy is spiritual. it is a gift from God. joy chooses you. it resonates inside some other hidden part of you, whether you happen to be in a good mood or not. when everything in my day goes straight to hell, it's joy that tips everything in me in the other direction, giving me an equilibrium that is virtually unbreakable. not the harshness of the city, not my dire circumstances, not even my worst enemies can hinder me. i am astonished at this shift, how subtle it can be and how over time, i've grown to rest in it and trust it. everything really is going to be alright.

if i had a favorite song, it would have to be "joy, joy" by the edwin hawkins singers. everyone everywhere should hear that song at least once after they've called themselves grown and the world whips them around for awhile. everyone should own the cd "oh, happy day." it's instant uplift.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

mini-road trip

i'm in the adirondacks, in lake placid to be exact. yes, that lake placid -- site of the 1980 olympics, where a bunch of what amounted to well-intentioned american college students beat the undefeatable powerhouse russian olympic hockey team, arguably the best hockey team in the history of the game. the russian athletes were even threatened with work-camp detail in siberia if they lost, so they were more than motivated to win at any cost. talk about beating the odds. everyone is still trying to figure out how they did it. including them.

i forgot all my music but i've got so all is not lost. not by a long shot.

the gig that brought me here was done with by 10pm, thankfully. i think the guys went to a bar called the zig-zag, to chill out and goof off. i didn't feel like tagging along. i don't want to sit around and watch them get loaded.

i've got a sweet little room in a motor inn that's modernized yet somehow retro, and i'm way too wound up to sleep. i am seriously considering a long soak to take everything down a notch but i'm not so sure it'll work. i'm too excited about everything that's happened, and it's exhausting me. i want to strategize.

everything feels like christmas. that's the only way i can sum it all up at the moment. and wouldn't you know it? earlier this evening, it started to snow...

tomorrow, i need to spend the entire afternoon in church, i need a shot of green vibrance, i need a pedicure and a manicure at jeniette and i need to see my eyebrowist there -- pretty much in that order.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

another day, another (commercial) callback

i had a 1pm appointment at HOUSE for the ocean spray commercial callback. they wanted me to do lines and they were prepared to put me on camera, upload my takes online and have a decision for me before the end of the day. i went in with the usual joie de vivre: crazy mad starving (i hadn't eaten all day) with no make-up on and, like always, i gave the assistants at the front desk my usual hello as i breezed past them to prep for my close-up. i've been in and out of there so much for auditions/callbacks in the past 2 years, they actually know me. one of them, rebecca, knows me no matter what my hair is doing. needless to say, she's my favorite.

i like to put my make-up on when i get there because their floor-to-ceiling windows means strong daylight even on a cloudy day, so i can't overapply it. i usually don't have much time to hang around so i'm also quick about it. and my eyebrows are always finished, which helps tremendously. the result is a natural, well-rested look. i know it sounds like no big deal but it took me forever to figure out how to put make-up on for the camera, to get this result. it was a constant learning process: what make-up to use, how to angle my face, how to relax the muscles in my face and smile slightly, so i didn't look deranged or constipated. i ended up experimenting by using my digital camera to make readjustments. i would put on make-up and take pictures of myself in natural light until i looked unmade-up. sounds oxymoronic, i know -- but that's the effect i knew i had to have. too much make-up can make you look a lot older than you really are on camera. it also looks amateurish -- a major no-no.

and you don't want to get into clothes and how you have to dress to pull all this off. you don't even want to know.

it took long enough to learn how to do the make-up/preparation/clothes right for stage but the camera is a strange animal. i had to learn how to audition well, how to prepare for it, all of it. is there a class for that? i seriously doubt it. if there were, i'd still have to go through the process of doing it, and that has its own learning curve. i couldn't have afforded to take them. i simply didn't have the money for those things. all i had was my creativity and my determination and my nerve. i was never afraid of showing up and doing a bad audition or looking stupid. i was afraid of missing an opportunity, even if i didn't get the gig, because i knew that the chance to be in front of that camera was school, and i had to take advantage of that.

so by the time i walked into that callback, i had it all down to a science. as i casually applied make-up and readjusted my look, i chatted with miryam, a blactress that was there for a k-mart commercial. she was on her way out the door, so she was readjusting in the other direction. somewhere in there, they brought out a massively huge platter of sandwiches for the staff. i involuntarily winced as i watched everyone dive in, thought about taking one, changed my mind and went to the front desk to sign in.

as it turns out, i was the only person there to read for the role.

as divine providence would have it, my favorite assistant rebecca was the one to put me on camera. this was important because i like her and she likes me, so i instantly feel comfortable in her presence and all of this translates to what i do on camera. the lines were quirky and fun. i actually enjoyed myself. like always, i was in and out -- and on the way out, rebecca let me have her sandwich because she was wheat-gluten intolerant. is she cool or what?

i find out either way later on this afternoon. in the immortal words of tom petty, the waiting is the hardest part.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


i called talentworks at about 4:30pm. did i get the commercial? weeeelll, they drawled, the people at ocean spray said they'd figure it out by "end of day" and it's not end of day yet. i say, oh, okay but i'm thinking, it's the end of my day. so i'm thinking, somebody is shining somebody on, but it ain't me. i didn't get it. and that was that.

about 30 minutes later, phil calls me. i say, are you calling to tell me i got it and he says, you got it and you didn't get it. huh??? it seems they want me to come back in tomorrow afternoon at 1pm to HOUSE and read lines. i'm thinking, lines? dollar signs pop out of my eyeballs like something out of a tex avery cartoon. you see, getting a national commercial with no lines that runs a lot means recieving a nice-sized sack of money when the quarterly payments start coming in. having lines in a national commercial that runs a lot, however, means you just won some kind of residual payment lotto. it's a money train, people. and it's got your name on it.

well. i'm still on hold and they want to hear me do lines. this should be interesting...

another day (some days ago) -- another (commercial) audition

a few weeks ago, i went into HOUSE for an ocean spray commercial. like most commercial auditions i've done in the past, it was an in and out situation, really. i've said it a jillion times before but it bears repeating -- there's a certain skillset that's required when it's time to say lines on camera and hit your mark, believe me, but most of the time, they look at you and decide whether or not they want to give you the job. seeing as how there's nothing i can do about how tall i am or how ethnic a face i have or how dark my skin is, there's never anything to get upset about when i don't get the gig. this audition was no exception. i came in and did my usual song and dance: put on minimal beat, had my picture taken, filled out the print out and signed in. then i pick up copy to figure out what they want me to do when i get in the room. once i'm in there, they occasionally fine-tune it. and that's it.

this time, i was to dance and have fun like i was at a cocktail party with friends, except i couldn't move my legs from the knees down because i'm supposed to be in a cranberry bog surrounded by rednecks. and yeah, that's not me interjecting that "surrounded by rednecks" line. that's what it actually said. now, i'm sure that when most people think of rednecks, they hear banjos playing somewhere in the distance as they're visualizing key scenes from deliverance. but when i think of rednecks, i think of archie bunker and jimmy the greek and president jimmy carter's much loved, much lambasted little brother billy. (actually, he was more of a good ol' boy, really. and that's not a redneck.) as a southerner who's lived in the north for quite a spell, i know firsthand that rednecks aren't just in the south -- they're absolutely everywhere. especially up here.

seeing that redneck line made me wonder just what they meant by redneck by putting it in there, especially since cranberries are typically grown in the northeast in this country. but i didn't wonder aloud. i wandered into the studio when my name was called, with a casually dressed middle aged white girl, where a smiling woman explained the scenario, turned the camera on us, slated us and cranked some music while staring at us on the monitor to her left. it's always funny to me, the way they're looking at me on the monitor and talking to me on the monitor and responding to me on the monitor and there i am, standing less than six feet away and they're not looking at me at all. and there i was, dancing without moving my legs to the strains of outcast, empty cup in hand, laughing and interacting with the other girl who was in the cranberry bog too, waving to the rednecks and wondering if they were waving back at me. hey ya, indeed.

yesterday i get a call from my agent phil at talentworks. surprise -- i'm on hold. that means they want to make sure that i'm available on the dates that they're supposed to shoot the commercial, because they might want me. to tell you the truth, i'm unfazed. i've been "on hold" before and not gotten the gig -- so often in fact that it felt as though my entire commercial audition experience was one gigantic hold button, with me dangling on the other end. but i keep going in for commercials because the money is basically a king's ransom. and the law of averages says that, like lotto, if i keep throwing my hat in the ring with this many near misses, i'm probably going to get one sooner or later. the question is, how long can i keep going in that room?

the obvious answer is, as long as it takes. because frankly, i'm way too hardheaded for any other option.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

charlie louvin and i at rodeo bar & grill

charlie louvin and i

my friend had met charlie louvin last year at the rodeo bar -- and he had the oversized color photo to prove it. he was so determined to see him play live that he literally came in from a cross-country vacation in the desert, put his bags down in his apartment and jumped in a cab to meet up with his friends who were already there and waiting for him. i was not to be outdone. the other night after we'd had a lovely dinner and taken in a broadway show, i decided we'd end the night by taking in the top of mr. louvin's first set at the rodeo bar, if my friend was up for it. undaunted, he happily agreed.

it was a thursday night, mr. louvin's 2nd night in residence as it were, and the place was packed as usual. and why wouldn't it be a shoulder-to-shoulder nightmare? there's never a cover, there's no drink minimum and the food is fairly decent tex-mex fare, with lots of righteous western/southern atmosphere and cool music posters and such. i'm still wondering if the enormous buffalo over the bar is real. boo reiners was playing guitar with him and he was in fine form.

eventually, the set ended and i got to say hello to boo. i asked him if he thought it would be alright to say hello to mr. louvin. "oh, sure," boo drawled. "he loves girls." indeed, there was a well-heeled, well dressed older dark-haired lady who sat in the booth against the wall nearby, watching everyone approach him, her lips smiling faintly, her index finger pressing against her lips, her other arm folded against her midsection, her jacket resting gingerly on her shoulders. i remember thinking, its so nice to see older women be...well, older. it's just not what's done these days. no one wants to age gracefully. she was loveliness personified. she had to be with him. she just had to be.

my friend and i made our way to the stage and dodged some fairly manic fan that was completely jabberwocky to get this photo. it was worth it, to meet my hero. all i could hear in my head as i looked into my own camera's eye was him and his brother ira singing their ever-popular gospel song "satan is real."

as i introduced myself, i told him that boo played on my last recordings and in a flash, he gave me his card and asked me to send him some of my music. he was warm and genuine and accessible, not unlike my friend's grandfather. when i mentioned that to my friend, he said that they vaguely resembled each other. and he's right.

i floated home and had wonderful dreams about recording my songs with charlie louvin. or at the very least, hanging out with him in nashville long enough to bake him and the lady a pound cake.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Marriage, Shamu and Rewarding Good Behavior

What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage

AS I wash dishes at the kitchen sink, my husband paces behind me, irritated. "Have you seen my keys?" he snarls, then huffs out a loud sigh and stomps from the room with our dog, Dixie, at his heels, anxious over her favorite human's upset.

In the past I would have been right behind Dixie. I would have turned off the faucet and joined the hunt while trying to soothe my husband with bromides like, "Don't worry, they'll turn up." But that only made him angrier, and a simple case of missing keys soon would become a full-blown angst-ridden drama starring the two of us and our poor nervous dog.

Now, I focus on the wet dish in my hands. I don't turn around. I don't say a word. I'm using a technique I learned from a dolphin trainer.

I love my husband. He's well read, adventurous and does a hysterical rendition of a northern Vermont accent that still cracks me up after 12 years of marriage.

But he also tends to be forgetful, and is often tardy and mercurial. He hovers around me in the kitchen asking if I read this or that piece in The New Yorker when I'm trying to concentrate on the simmering pans. He leaves wadded tissues in his wake. He suffers from serious bouts of spousal deafness but never fails to hear me when I mutter to myself on the other side of the house. "What did you say?" he'll shout.

These minor annoyances are not the stuff of separation and divorce, but in sum they began to dull my love for Scott. I wanted — needed — to nudge him a little closer to perfect, to make him into a mate who might annoy me a little less, who wouldn't keep me waiting at restaurants, a mate who would be easier to love.

So, like many wives before me, I ignored a library of advice books and set about improving him. By nagging, of course, which only made his behavior worse: he'd drive faster instead of slower; shave less frequently, not more; and leave his reeking bike garb on the bedroom floor longer than ever.

We went to a counselor to smooth the edges off our marriage. She didn't understand what we were doing there and complimented us repeatedly on how well we communicated. I gave up. I guessed she was right — our union was better than most — and resigned myself to stretches of slow-boil resentment and occasional sarcasm.

Then something magical happened. For a book I was writing about a school for exotic animal trainers, I started commuting from Maine to California, where I spent my days watching students do the seemingly impossible: teaching hyenas to pirouette on command, cougars to offer their paws for a nail clipping, and baboons to skateboard.

I listened, rapt, as professional trainers explained how they taught dolphins to flip and elephants to paint. Eventually it hit me that the same techniques might work on that stubborn but lovable species, the American husband.

The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't. After all, you don't get a sea lion to balance a ball on the end of its nose by nagging. The same goes for the American husband.

Back in Maine, I began thanking Scott if he threw one dirty shirt into the hamper. If he threw in two, I'd kiss him. Meanwhile, I would step over any soiled clothes on the floor without one sharp word, though I did sometimes kick them under the bed. But as he basked in my appreciation, the piles became smaller.

I was using what trainers call "approximations," rewarding the small steps toward learning a whole new behavior. You can't expect a baboon to learn to flip on command in one session, just as you can't expect an American husband to begin regularly picking up his dirty socks by praising him once for picking up a single sock. With the baboon you first reward a hop, then a bigger hop, then an even bigger hop. With Scott the husband, I began to praise every small act every time: if he drove just a mile an hour slower, tossed one pair of shorts into the hamper, or was on time for anything.

I also began to analyze my husband the way a trainer considers an exotic animal. Enlightened trainers learn all they can about a species, from anatomy to social structure, to understand how it thinks, what it likes and dislikes, what comes easily to it and what doesn't. For example, an elephant is a herd animal, so it responds to hierarchy. It cannot jump, but can stand on its head. It is a vegetarian.

The exotic animal known as Scott is a loner, but an alpha male. So hierarchy matters, but being in a group doesn't so much. He has the balance of a gymnast, but moves slowly, especially when getting dressed. Skiing comes naturally, but being on time does not. He's an omnivore, and what a trainer would call food-driven.

Once I started thinking this way, I couldn't stop. At the school in California, I'd be scribbling notes on how to walk an emu or have a wolf accept you as a pack member, but I'd be thinking, "I can't wait to try this on Scott."

On a field trip with the students, I listened to a professional trainer describe how he had taught African crested cranes to stop landing on his head and shoulders. He did this by training the leggy birds to land on mats on the ground. This, he explained, is what is called an "incompatible behavior," a simple but brilliant concept.

Rather than teach the cranes to stop landing on him, the trainer taught the birds something else, a behavior that would make the undesirable behavior impossible. The birds couldn't alight on the mats and his head simultaneously.

At home, I came up with incompatible behaviors for Scott to keep him from crowding me while I cooked. To lure him away from the stove, I piled up parsley for him to chop or cheese for him to grate at the other end of the kitchen island. Or I'd set out a bowl of chips and salsa across the room. Soon I'd done it: no more Scott hovering around me while I cooked.

I followed the students to SeaWorld San Diego, where a dolphin trainer introduced me to least reinforcing syndrome (L. R. S.). When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn't respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.

In the margins of my notes I wrote, "Try on Scott!"

It was only a matter of time before he was again tearing around the house searching for his keys, at which point I said nothing and kept at what I was doing. It took a lot of discipline to maintain my calm, but results were immediate and stunning. His temper fell far shy of its usual pitch and then waned like a fast-moving storm. I felt as if I should throw him a mackerel.

Now he's at it again; I hear him banging a closet door shut, rustling through papers on a chest in the front hall and thumping upstairs. At the sink, I hold steady. Then, sure enough, all goes quiet. A moment later, he walks into the kitchen, keys in hand, and says calmly, "Found them."

Without turning, I call out, "Great, see you later."

Off he goes with our much-calmed pup.

After two years of exotic animal training, my marriage is far smoother, my husband much easier to love. I used to take his faults personally; his dirty clothes on the floor were an affront, a symbol of how he didn't care enough about me. But thinking of my husband as an exotic species gave me the distance I needed to consider our differences more objectively.

I adopted the trainers' motto: "It's never the animal's fault." When my training attempts failed, I didn't blame Scott. Rather, I brainstormed new strategies, thought up more incompatible behaviors and used smaller approximations. I dissected my own behavior, considered how my actions might inadvertently fuel his. I also accepted that some behaviors were too entrenched, too instinctive to train away. You can't stop a badger from digging, and you can't stop my husband from losing his wallet and keys.

PROFESSIONALS talk of animals that understand training so well they eventually use it back on the trainer. My animal did the same. When the training techniques worked so beautifully, I couldn't resist telling my husband what I was up to. He wasn't offended, just amused. As I explained the techniques and terminology, he soaked it up. Far more than I realized.

Last fall, firmly in middle age, I learned that I needed braces. They were not only humiliating, but also excruciating. For weeks my gums, teeth, jaw and sinuses throbbed. I complained frequently and loudly. Scott assured me that I would become used to all the metal in my mouth. I did not.

One morning, as I launched into yet another tirade about how uncomfortable I was, Scott just looked at me blankly. He didn't say a word or acknowledge my rant in any way, not even with a nod.

I quickly ran out of steam and started to walk away. Then I realized what was happening, and I turned and asked, "Are you giving me an L. R. S.?" Silence. "You are, aren't you?"

He finally smiled, but his L. R. S. has already done the trick. He'd begun to train me, the American wife.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

neo-burlesque at its finest!

delirium tremens at the slipper room

here's a shot of one of my favorite neo-burlesque performers, delerium tremens, hard at work at the slipper room. i especially like the way she puts a new twist on her old school take on burlesque. you can't completely let go of the past with any of this. you have to build on it. i like her style. the betty paige hair, 40's make-up and classic body complete the effect, but the kicker is that sneer on her face that she gives the audience as she dances.

that hard look has a startling effect, somehow. there's something calculated about it, which adds even more dimension to what she's doing, because there's something contemptuous in it. i don't think she realizes the expression she's making. or maybe she does. either way, it's not what you'd expect from such a pretty girl. that's a part of the reveal in her dance, i suppose. and the allure.

this is what my friend looks at while he's slinging drinks but for some strange reason, he could care less. is it because he's been working there for so long? as one of the dancers told me, "if i want him to not look at me, i'll put on some pasties."