کتاب: زندگی در چند بخش / فصل 16

زندگی در چند بخش

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Not having any experience or guidance, I chose nearly all my classes within my major during my first year in junior college: Criminalistics and Police Systems and Practices and such. I did very well. I was sailing right along.

So I was surprised when my counselor looked down at my transcript, shaking his head, and told me I needed electives. I was planning to transfer my credits to a four-year university the following year, and I thought I had to be completely nose to the grindstone: all criminal procedure all the time. My counselor told me no, in fact, admissions offices would want to see a well-rounded curriculum.

All right. I gazed up to a large board above my head: ELECTIVE COURSES. Listed alphabetically. Abacus for Beginners. Archery. Acting. Wait—I thought of my traumatizing turn as Professor Flipnoodle and sighed. But it was just an elective. And it could be a good time. I signed up for two classes: Intro to Acting and Stagecraft.

The first day of class was a typical September day for the San Fernando Valley: hot. The small classroom was crowded with kids and painted entirely in flat black. I felt like the walls themselves were a heat source. I learned later the black walls were purposefully neutral. The artistry of the work would supply the color.

I looked around. Girls outnumbered boys, maybe eight to one. I didn’t mind that. The next thing I noticed was that the girls in acting class were much better looking than those in the police science courses. I didn’t mind that at all.

The teacher handed out two-person scenes for us to perform. “You two do this one. You two take this.” I happened to be standing next to a cute brown-haired girl. By virtue of proximity we’d be acting partners. I smiled nervously at her. Nothing. I cast my eyes down on the paper.

I turned my attention to the scene. The opening description read: A couple is making out on a park bench.

I glanced up at the girl and then quickly back to the paper. Son of a bitch, she was really pretty. I read the first line again just to make sure I read it correctly. A couple is making out on a park bench.

I barely remember what the scene was about, and I have no clue what play it was from. I only recall that the boy was to break from the embrace and try to explain to the girl why they should start to see other people. I knew with absolute certainty that if the boy in the scene were somehow able to see the girl who was playing his girlfriend, he would never, ever break up with her.

As I reviewed the scene I kept darting glances at my acting partner. She was busy chatting with a friend and hadn’t yet looked at the text. I worried that when she discovered our shared mission she would be dismayed that I was the leading man.

She finally got around to focusing on the script. And she did the same thing I did after reading the opening sentence . . . looked up. I pretended to be gazing in the other direction as she assessed me. I glanced back and gave her a casual smile—no wholehearted grin. That would be too much. To my surprise she didn’t grimace or frown or show any sign of displeasure. She just cocked her head slightly to one side and pursed her lips. I guess you’d call it a pondering look. Technically, it was a neutral gesture, but I found it so sexy. I took her noncommittal glance as a major victory.

Was I supposed to really kiss her? Really? I went to the teacher and whispered, “It says that the couple is making out . . . should we really, uh, make out, or just pretend to do it?” A valid question, I thought.

The teacher didn’t think so and dismissed me: “You’re not in high school anymore.”

Message received. I had to go for it. I was emboldened by the teacher’s answer. My heart quickened as I watched an hour of other students’ scenes. At last, my partner and I were called upon. The stage was set, just a bench; the rest was up to us to imagine.

We sat down and I dropped my script on the floor. I’d pick it up when I needed it. I hoped she could handle what I was about to do. Ready or not here I come. I started to turn toward her—but she beat me to the punch. She kissed me wildly. Her hands roamed all over my neck and my chest and my legs. She thrust her body into mine, moaning with pleasure. I was delirious. I surrendered to our shared lust, rubbing, tapping, kissing—wait, what? Tapping?

Yes, my upstage thigh was definitely being tapped. The girl was rubbing my body with one hand and tapping me with the other . . . but why? Was she performing some kind of dexterity test? Like patting her head and rubbing circles on her stomach at the same time? Whatever she was doing, she was amazingly adroit at it. A pro. And then it occurred to me: the scene! We have to do the scene!

She was telling me, tapping me, as subtly as she could that it was up to me to start the dialogue—my character was supposed to pull away—not hers. I finally pushed away from her, took a gulp of air, and said . . . nothing. I forgot my line. I lunged for the papers on the floor and desperately looked for the opening line, but I was looking at page two.

Before the kiss, I’d easily memorized my first line, “Beth, we need to talk . . . about us,” and left the script open to page two where I was to follow up with a long explanation. Only I didn’t count on having those first few words completely vanish from my brain because of all the kissing and rubbing and tapping.

I recovered. The scene started to take off. Before I knew it, it was over. Strange how time seemed to speed up. The teacher gave us some notes. I heard nothing he said.

At the break I casually approached my acting partner, who was smoking a cigarette. She exhaled a long plume of smoke, and I worked up the courage to say, “That went really well.”

“It got off to a rough start,” she replied.

“Yeah, sorry. But after that, I thought it went pretty great. We rebounded.”

“I guess we did.” She gave me a little smile.

Clearly we were simpatico, a potential match if ever there was one. Her kiss was all the clarity I needed. I went in for the close: “We should have lunch sometime.”

She looked confused. And then she looked at me as if I were a lost puppy. “Oh,” she said without affect. “No.” Seeing that I was still in the dark, she added, “I have a boyfriend.”

What? But you just kissed me as if I were the most desirable man on earth. You grinded your pelvis into mine and moaned as if you couldn’t get enough of me. That’s what I thought of saying. Instead, I feigned indifference. “Hey, that’s cool. You know, whatever.”

Indifference was my go-to whenever I felt vulnerable. I was not mature enough to be honest and show surprise, even though that was my feeling. Utter shock. I felt like I was the victim of a practical joke. Her lips pursed again, this time it was more sorry than sexy. She might as well have patted me on the head and told me I reminded her of her little brother. But I remained inscrutable. No sign of surprise or disappointment or confusion.

She walked away.

She wasn’t into me. I mean not at all. She was acting. She was given the task of pretending to be hot for me and that is what she did. I had to sit down. What just happened?

A month later I wouldn’t remember her name. But she left me with something I’d never forget: I learned that you could so fully inhabit a character that you could fool others, move others. With talent and commitment, you could seduce or terrify. You could make someone feel utter hate or desolation or compassion or even love.

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