“Help!” she cried.

Vincent Truman

Vincent Truman

While waiting at the Western Avenue Blue Line stop en route to yet another film set, idling my time with yet another round of Ruzzle on yet another smartphone, my attention was drawn by some distant caterwauling: a couple fighting at the end of the platform. He was outraged and outrageous, decked out in the latest fashions from Apparel For Alphas: backwards Cubs hat, seemingly torn shirt surrendering to oversized, rump-roast-styled arms. She was angry and incensed, decked out in similar gear from Angry Lady International: tight red tank top stretched over melon-sized boobs, tight short shorts with matching cracks. Both wore identical white sneakers.

Alpha Male was silent and brooding, stalking the platform in a circle like a particularly irritated zoo animal named Jon, except when he would burst out in an explosion of violent-sounding burbles at his partner; she would retort with accented and automated-weapon-grade speech which sounded like it was doubting any bit of attraction she had for him, or, indeed, any attraction he could have for anyone. Suddenly, when the burbles and retorts got close enough that they overlapped, he stormed towards her and she cried out, “Help! Help!

Alpha Male froze. I stood, ignoring my mindless Ruzzle game. Now, there was no way I could take this guy, but the thought ran though my brain: is this one of the times I step in? Try and quell the anger? Try and protect her while trying to calm him down? I was beginning to edge towards them – two steps, maybe four – when the train arrived.  I sighed a breath of relief and hopped on the train, hoping to see the bickering lovebirds left on the platform as we pulled away. But alas, no – Alpha Male got on the same car as me and Angry Lady ran down the platform and got on another car. He watched her with a twitch, twitch, twich in his fuming eyes.

I wound up standing next to Alpha Male and his bulging, rippling mega-man roast-beef arms for the ride into the bowels of underground Chicago, wondering if he would acknowledge my movement towards him by a generally accepted Alpha Male token of realization (say, an elbow to my nose or a swift knee to the groin). He was fortunately occupied on his phone: he texted and texted and called and called and texted and called and called and texted her. She did not respond. I watched as his face gradually went from mere fake-tan to a gruesome fake-amber. At each stop along the Blue Line, he would duck his head out of the train car to see if she disembarked. She didn’t.

I was somewhat relieved as the journey continued, thinking that, yes, Angry Lady made her point and she was done with Alpha Male for good. Good for her, I thought. Yes, Alpha Male would be angry for a while, and probably pull an all-nighter at LA Fitness just to grind and grunt his anger into submission.

At the Clark and Lake stop, I disembarked the train, but not quick enough to notice Angry Lady run up to our car and wave Alpha Male off. It was their stop. They walked off together, not holding hands but definitely a couple and definitely together.

And I wondered: what if I had been the guy who stepped in and tried to help her? Say the train wasn’t near, and there was an altercation between Alpha Male, Angry Lady and me? And then ten minutes later, they were simply together again?

I feel bad that I didn’t rush over to intercede, but I’m sooooo fooookin’ glad I didn’t.

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Love Trumps Hate & Action Trumps Trump: A Collection of Resources

Womens' March, Chicago, January 2017

Womens’ March, Chicago, January 2017

The big question following the January 2017 Womens’ March (estimated participation being between 3.7 and 4.8 million, spanning all seven continents – a first in world history) is, “what now?”

Culled from friends of mine discussing this question online, here is a collection of answers. Feel free to comment with other sources as well as share with your friends.

# # #
1. Don Washington’s MAYORAL TUTORIAL article, “The Necessary Means to Be Black & Fight Fascism.” Don is a friend of mine who has been active in social justice before it was cool. The article may sound intended for African Americans only, but there is great information here for everyone. This article, which more than anything else, encourages active participation as a citizen, has been helpful to over 30,000 readers to date. I’d also recommend the rest of MAYORAL TUTORIAL as well; consider this article the gateway drug to a wider consciousness.

http://mayoraltutorial.com/articles/the_necessary_means_to_be_black_fight_fascism

2. INDIVISIBLE: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda

Written by former Congressional staffers, this website offers an analysis of how the Left was defeated and simple ways to engage your representative in Congress. There are also links to help identify local Meetup groups (but check out Meetup as well).

https://www.indivisibleguide.com/web/

3. WOMEN’S MARCH FACEBOOK PAGES

No group is more focused on “what next?” than the ones that helped kick the Women’s March up from a couple of friends in Hawaii to a truly global event. I’m including the link to the Chicago-based page (which helped most recently in the immigration ban protest at our O’Hare Airpost), but others are out there. Collect ’em all.

https://www.facebook.com/WomensMarchOnChicago/?hc_location=ufi

4. The 65.

This site provides a Weekly Call to Action as well as an overview of all issues and concerns facing fellow Americans, including a very helpful FAQ for those who have never called their representatives.

http://thesixtyfive.org/home

5. Daily Action.

This site, similar to The 65, offers a more granule approach to taking action. On this site, you can enter your phone number and get a daily “what you can do  today” message. “You will subsequently receive one text message every workday about an issue that we have determined to be urgent based on where you live. You tap on the phone number in your message, listen to a short recording about that day’s issue, and from there you’ll be automatically routed to your Senator, member of Congress, or other relevant elected official. In 90 seconds, you can conscientiously object and be done with it.”

https://dailyaction.org/

6. One Call Today.

Similar to Daily Action, this site provides daily issues to your phone, but will instantly connect you to your representative (if you opt to do so – it’s not automatic).

https://onecall.today/

 

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Excerpt From an Unwritten Autobiography: First Move

Vincent Truman's First House

Vincent Truman’s First House

The picture here is of the house that I grew up in, in the sleepy Mayberry-esque hamlet of Morris, Illinois, some seventy miles southwest and some twenty years behind Chicago. Of Morris, some short remarks can be made to illustrate the town: (1) it is a nice town to be from, but not a nice town to go to, as my sister once wisely said; (2) Morris is so rural and agriculturally-oriented that they have an annual Corn Festival; that is, and succinctly enough, a celebration of corn; (3) Morris became decidedly unfamous through the publication of two tomes, Elmtown’s Youth and Elmtown Revisited, by Professor August Hollingshead (1949 and 1975, respectively), which illustrated a tightly-knit and extremely white bunch of business owners who dictated favoritism for one class of individuals over another through the decades.

Of Mr. Hollingshead’s books, the National Library of Medicine opined: “Unfortunately, slightly less than 50 years after the publication of this path-breaking study, the conditions it drew attention to still persist. The strong association between poverty and poor mental health outcomes has been confirmed in a number of studies, although there is still debate about the direction of causation. One thing has changed, however. Individuals from the lowest social strata no longer receive substandard treatment in mental hospitals; they often receive no treatment at all and are likely to be homeless.”

Naturally, when I occasionally quiz my friends who still live in Morris about social class and class consciousness, the response is one of dismissal or utter disbelief. However, it is of perhaps no surprise that one of the most curt epithets one could give another individual, and one I was prone to using when a young lad, was “retard.”

Although I grew up in the house pictured – my bedroom is on the second floor on the right, overlooking a balcony that was almost impossible to get onto – eventually it was time for our first move. The move was precipitated by my mother and father getting divorced in early 1977, right after their 17th anniversary, and the need to celebrate the split on paper by actually splitting in real life. To my memory, the house pictured was bought by my parents for a whopping $19,000. Immediately, you may think, they must have made a lot of money. However, in rummaging through Redfin, Trulia and similar real estate websites, the value of the home is currently in the neighborhood of $160,000. A dramatic rise since 1967, to be sure, but woefully cheap by most urban metrics.

And so, in early 1977, in the early days of the Carter Administration and yet before “Saturday Night Fever” shook the American consciousness, we all moved out. My father, Mad Jack, immediately went to Joliet, where he laid down his half of the Morris home, in cash, to purchase a very nice shanty house (or a very nice bad house, depending on one’s perspective). My mother, sister and I moved in Morris to an apartment above my mother’s good friend’s house. The apartment consisted of a kitchen, living room, a bathroom, and, along a narrow hallway, three bedrooms.

Nowadays, the idea of moving is a dreadful one, especially if I were to consider moving to a smaller place. But at the time, in 1977, I don’t ever recall seeming to mind at all. It was just what needed to be done.

What was remarkable about this apartment was not physical, but instead spiritual. My mother’s friend was always a bit of mystic and reminded me of Valerie Harper’s Rhoda Morgenstern from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and, of course, “Rhoda.” She had suggested that she was aware of my previous lives, especially one in which I was a rural farmer somewhere in Virginia around 1861. In that scenario, I apparently had wanted to make the peace and stood between the Union and Confederate soldiers as they convened on my land. Predictably enough, I was shot down almost immediately. When I heard this story, I didn’t quite believe it although I could see it as plausible. Many was the times I, as a child, tried to break up fights between my parents and my sister, only to be rebuffed by both afterwards. That also explains why I have often had a desire to be a diplomat, but never followed though on that inclination. And it may also explain why I have a complete lack of interest in being shot.

The other spiritual anomaly in the new apartment was Mr. Walker. Apparently, Mr. Walker used to own the house and now, long dead, would occasionally walk the floors of both the apartments, above and below. I believe it was my sister who had claimed to have seen a snowy footprint at the entrance to our apartment. By the way, Mr. Walker was not the name of the guy; rather, it was my own family’s sense of humor that christened the ghost Mr. Walker, because walking was apparently all he ever did.

The Spy

The Spy

I admit wanting to believe in Mr. Walker, not so much because I was a young Fox Mulder, but because my mother, sister and friend all seemed to believe in the guy. I still remember cowering under sheets at night, with one eye peeking out, hoping to get a glimpse of our mysterious visitor. And there were at least a few times when I was convinced he walked by my room. I went so far to actually imagine what he looked like – a gent with a top hat, a long chin, mustache and a scarf wrapped into a black overcoat. I was convinced of this for years, until I realized, quite soon afterwards, I was merely remembering the Spy character from the board game, Stratego.

It reminded me of the times I would imagine Santa Claus being on the landing of the second floor in my house in Morris. Both, I concluded long before pubescence, were little more than wishful folly.

Since then, moves have had little effect on me – generally, they are things that have to be done as opposed to things one wants to do. Every move I have done since 1977 seems to bear this out.

 

 

 

 

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Excerpt from an Unwritten Autobiography: First Love

Vincent Truman

Vincent Truman

Angela Newland was my first love. In that obscure corner of the brain devoted to such things, she looks the same as she did once upon a time: wispy blonde hair, blue eyes, slightly pointy chin, warm and confident smile. In that same corner, where alternative realities play and play out, she and I were childhood sweethearts who grew up together in the Mayberry-esque town of Morris, Illinois, where we eventually and predictably got married. Both sides of our family knew it was going to happen, and cheered us on, seeing in us the true love that signaled true success and happiness in life. In that version, I wound up as a happy guy in a factory and she worked retail. Our two children, one boy and one girl, happily looked more like her, and our cats looked more like me. Except for that one poster on the wall in that corner of my brain, it was ideal. More on that later.

Reality, of course, is like the brick through the window of dreams, so of course that scenario never played out. We met in kindergarten and it was love, or at least something pretty similar, at first sight. When it was time to play, all of the other kids would gather in small groups and put blocks on other blocks or play cowboys and indians with little plastic figures, blissfully unaware of the genocidal history that preceded our generations. In the middle of all of that bustling, giggling activity, Angela and I would hold hands and make our way through a path in the throng of five-year-olds, pretending we were walking down the aisle on our way to get married. We even said “I do” to each other, even though the “do you take this…?” inquiry from the appointed priest was missing.

What I remember most is that we were very kind to each other, even though we had extremely limited vocabulary and no ability to Snapchat the experience. I was horribly shy but her smile when she saw me would alleviate anxiety and worry and I was just happy. Is this what life is supposed to be about, I remember wondering. Sounded good to me, I concluded.

We split off into different streams rarely saw each other once we got to Center High School (which is now torn down, replaced with, I think, nothing) and its gathering of children from second to fifth grade. I had another girlfriend briefly in first grade: Sandy, who was the opposite of Angela altogether, being from one of the few African American families in Morris. However, I experienced my first feeling of wistfulness, wondering where Angela had gone and what she might be up to. I didn’t see her really again until the fourth grade.

I’ve never really been that great at keeping up with the nuances of love and how it changes over time. It was certainly the case in fourth grade.

After recess one day, I was climbing the marble stairs up to my home room on the third floor, when I looked up and there she was: Angela, in the flesh. She looked like a vision of loveliness as she descended the stairs, holding onto the rail as I held onto mine. I thought, “OK, gotta be cool, gotta be casual… but it’s Angela.” I looked up at her with the same eyes I gave her all those years ago in kindergarten.

Angela made eye contact with me. Unlike me, she had kept up with societal norms insofar as female-male relationships went. She looked at me, sneered, rolled her eyes and continued on.

In retrospect, she was doing exactly what girls did to boys at that age (and vice versa). Nobody was really nice to each other. To boys, girls were icky; to girls, boys were gross.

I remember feeling somewhat gutted immediately after our visual exchange, so much so that the experience nailed itself up to the wall in the corner of my brain, like the posters I was collecting at the time, devoted to the “what if” scenario of Angela and my holy union. It was my first heartbreak.

Over the years, I would occasionally drop in on Morris and see if I could catch up with her. I was never successful. In later years, I would search for her online, using all the cutting edge tools, like AskJeeves or Alta Vista. Eventually, I friended a childhood chum on Facebook and, of course, asked if she knew what happened to Angela. Angela got married (I think) and moved to Florida (I think) and had a tribe of kids (I think). So I gave up the search at long last, 40 years after our first walk down the aisle. However, I still used her name in two of my plays (“The Tearful Assassin” and its sequel, “Killing Angela”).

Like a first kiss, one does not forget one’s first love. And wherever she is, I hope she’s happy.

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Excerpt from an Unwritten Autobiography: First Father Figure

Mad Jack

Mad Jack’s current hangout.

“Mad Jack” was the kindest and most accurate nickname our family could think of for my father. Although circumstances of his death remain slightly shaded in mystery, it did appear he had a stroke, or something similar, in December 2006 and died in early January 2007. His body was found in his home in late January 2007. Nobody talked to him at that point, so it is relatively surprising that his corpse was discovered as soon as it was.

It was my mother who called on that brisk January morning to give me the news. She delivered it somberly: “V, you should know your father died”, to which I responded, “about time.”

I never cried about my father dying, as I had pretty much cut him out of my life back in the 1980s, after he had drunkenly told me that he wanted to shoot my mom (his ex-wife), so by the time 2007 rolled around, he was a memory longer than he had been a father. I suspected that I would never change my line of thinking of Mad Jack being a detestable, grumpy, largely illiterate, country-music-loving schmuck, and for a few years I didn’t. However, his blood is my blood, and I cannot help but empathize with his detestable, grumpy ways (I’ve always prided myself on being literate, and I’ve never quite understood why country music never evolved like every other musical form, so I still don’t get those facets of his personality).

When I was scouring my initial memories and how they have become a substandard blueprint for my life since, I thought my plight of feeling woefully insubstantial was the result of god suggesting I just wasn’t wanted at this particular party. If that was the case, then god flat out went and shut all the lights off at his house to suggest that no party even existed for my father to attend in the first place.

Mad Jack was born in 1935 to a couple of boneheads who chucked him into foster care at a very early age. In those days, at the height of the decade’s crushing Depression, farmers would routinely tour foster facilities and adopt six, seven or eight kids at a throw in exchange for some tax breaks and, more importantly, free child labor (a/k/a chores). My father was one of eight in a third wave of kids adopted by some practical, if not outright sadistic, farmers in rural Illinois.

I know very little about my father’s childhood, although he did once tell me his favorite, and only, toy was a disused hubcap, which he would pretend was a steering wheel. He’d run around the fields, “driving” over sketchy terrain of corn and cow shit. At the time he told me that, I – who was given my first record player at 2 – laughed. I bet that hurt him just a little bit.

Mad Jack, much like his only son in later years, attempted very much to play by the rules and was often punished for it. I equate it to being on a highway where everyone is going 80 miles per hour in a 55 MPH zone and me being pulled over for going 56. School was rural and neither encouraging nor challenging; religion was thrust on him to give him rationale for constant suffering; his mother popped into his life once or twice, which only exacerbated his alienation of self. And then he joined the army. While in the armed service, something – or everything – snapped and he went nuts. Allegedly, over a dozen men were required to stop him. Stories are conflicted over whether he completed his time or was kicked out.

Back in civilian life, he got a typical job that neither encouraged nor challenged. He met a girl named Mary and married her. All according to the social contract of the day. Mary had two kids and took care of the home while Mad Jack toiled away at his factory job. It was the best he could hope for.

But things went wrong, as all things seemed to do with Mad Jack. He worked midnights for the bump in pay and the cost of that was he was fairly alienated from his wife and kids, who did not work midnights at all. When Mary opted to go back to college, he soldiered on. When Mary graduated and got a killer job, he soldiered on. And when Mary divorced him, he stopped altogether. I actually think he died in 1977 but it took 40 years for his body to agree that death was the best option.

Mad Jack moved to Joliet and bought a house with cash and didn’t go anywhere but work in those four decades. Nothing had worked for him, so he gave up even trying to try. Friends and family vanished from his social calendar, and I suspect it was because he thought himself such a failure that no one could ever love him, let alone be close. So he got angry and pushed everyone away. At the time, we all thought he was nuts, and that’s when his nickname surfaced and stuck. Now, though, I think he thought the world hated him and decided to push anyone who loved him far, far away for their own safety. It was the only compassionate thing he had left to do. And it was the only thing he could count on for success.

As the years rolled along, he got more obstinate and frequently drunk – he had two refrigerators, one for frozen dinners and one for Old Style – while continuing to be called a worthless sinner in the eyes of god every Sunday at Saint Raymond’s Church in Joliet. It was then when, during our last conversation, he threatened to kill Mary – my mom – and her second husband, who had achieved his main and biggest dream: to own a farm. He wanted that more than anything, I think, and seeing his ex-wife and Jewish husband achieve that dream was too much for him. I hung up on him, and we never spoke or wrote again.

Nobody really knows what Mad Jack got up to in the last three decades of his life, save for my sister, who would be in occasional contact (although I suspect it was mainly to twist the old man’s mind enough to give her family the majority of his eventual estate), but my sister and I rarely spoke, either. At his funeral, in addition to Mary (who was kind enough to fly in to support her kids, not to pay tribute to Mad Jack), my sister and me, there were perhaps a half dozen other people there. I didn’t know them. One guy was a cop who said Mad Jack liked to tell jokes. Not the worst legacy, but not the most ideal choice for “only” legacy, either.

It is because his blood is my blood that I worry sometimes about adopting Mad Jack-isms. Sometimes I even become very like Mad Jack. I have thrown immense temper tantrums with all of my closest lovers, including my own ex-wife (who, for the record, I do not wish to shoot) and fiancee. I’m smart enough to recognize that my emotional dizzy spells are rooted in the same fear that Mad Jack possessed, but sometimes they sneak up just cleverly enough to explode before I can adjust my thinking. I’m horrible, lousy, inconsequential, I reason at unreasonable times, and I lash out – and it’s never to hurt anyone, but it is definitely to convince them to stay far afield of me. Considering the demise of my first marriage, I know it is one of the things I can count on for success.

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Excerpt from an Unwritten Autobiography: First Memories

Vincent Truman

Vincent Truman

DISCLAIMER: This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post (at least intentionally – I will have to contact my therapist to confirm).  Rather, it is a still from a January 2017 episode of CHICAGO PD in which I played a protester outside of a church. I, and perhaps a hundred other performers, acted in very cold conditions for two full days, weathering startlingly cold food in addition to weathering the weather, and the final footage, when edited by hands steadier than mine, came up to less than a minute. So, as a tribute to my time on set, I’ve included it here.

# # #

What I find most troubling about my childhood isn’t so much the missing swaths of time, but that the moments that are clearest in my mind are annoyingly disturbing. Let me take you to my very first memory. I was 13 months old. September 1966. I did not have a concept of a calendar at that young age; instead, it was only in retrospect that I realized it was a birthday party for my Grandmother Lucy, and her birthday fell in September. Everyone in the family is gathered around a large table in what was to become our TV room, once Dad bought the obligatory huge color set with the remote that physically moved the inner workings of the TV set with a CLUNK so we could switch between the five available channels without getting up.

As I say, everyone was gathered around the table, at the center of which was a cake. I recall everyone singing “Happy Birthday” (perhaps it was this unnatural din which awoke my consciousness and created my first memory). I was, as you might imagine, very small indeed, so I had to reach way up high just to hang onto the rim of the table, which I was doing precariously, as releasing my grip would certainly make me fall on my big, fat and no doubt full diaper. In that very moment, which I can still see with my mind’s eye to this day, I realized I was peripheral to everything. I didn’t know this bizarre song or the language it was spoken in. I was unable to participate in any way. And I was one stubby finger away from falling far away from sight from everyone around the table.

Another very early memory has implanted itself in my head, but it is only because the story was regaled to me by my mother in recent years. Apparently, I was an insanely happy baby. I never cried. I was happy to sleep, happy to wake up, happy to poop, happy to hide under the kitchen sink, happy to do some exploratory work on the parents’ stereo (which, like most stereos of the time, measured about five feet long and three feet high and was made of heavy, heavy wood). At times, I think I was probably the happiest during that period compared to any other period in my life. In any event, as my mother tells it, my maternal grandfather was starting to worry about this smiling, peaceful baby, thinking that something must indeed be wrong with me. Perhaps I was retarded. So he pinched my leg hard. And I started bawling. Crisis averted for my grandpa, at least.

I even recall my first nightmare, which must have come when I was about five. In that dream, I am in our side yard on Washington Street in the Mayberry-like town of Morris, Illinois, and my mother comes running out of the back door. She’s running towards me frantically, trying to warn me about something. But whatever horrible thing it is catches up with her and turns my dear mother into a stoplight – one of those old-timey ones, painted green, which stands on street corners and has shields above the red, yellow and green, not unlike golfers’ visors. She has been transformed and the stoplight she has become bends painfully, still trying to get to me before metal envelops skin and she is stuck in the middle of the yard, blinking red.

At that point, someone unseen grabs me and throws me over their knees. I realized I was in for a spanking of some sort, and I am looking down at concrete steps. That’s all I can see. I don’t know why I’m being spanked, but some authority figure has determined it is necessary, either for them or me – but probably not for me. The whacks of the spanking, which sound like thunderclaps, come so hard and fierce that I vomit out my own tongue. It falls out of my mouth and onto the concrete step, looking like a severed bit of strawberry, surrounded by something that looks like strawberry syrup mixed with saliva, which I take to be blood from my severed tongue.

I’m sure there were days, months and years of bliss in there somewhere, but the moments which step to the fore are always the ones above. At that point, I believed wholly in Jesus Christ and God and Santa, so I was convinced for years this was their way of telling me I wasn’t wanted. Like, at all. This was no fault of my parents, although memories of both are more tainted than they are clear, but rather little moments that, for one reason or another, decided to imbed themselves in my psyche. These horrific little bits of theater follow me to this day.

The current nightmare that is jostling around in my head lately is similarly morose. In the dream, I am an extra on a film set. And at one point, I realize it’s not a film. It’s life. And I’m in extra’s holding, staring at cold food, unable to convince anyone that I shouldn’t be there. (This can connect to the photo after all!  Woo hoo!)

At times when all of these memories and dreams decide to visit, and they visit more frequently than I would like, I try to think that it’s a shame I’m not more broken. Really broken people can be really successful. I’m just the kind of broken that makes me broken.

I wish my parents had forbade me toys.

 

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Extra Extra 4: Hot Under The Collar

Vincent Truman in The Exorcist

Vincent Truman in The Exorcist, Season 1, Episode 10

Throughout September, October, November and December of 2016, I whiled away a sizable chunk of time indulging my interest in being an extra, or as some kinder behind-the-scenes wranglers call us, background actors.

In that time, I have played a wide variety of amazingly inconsequential roles, all of which pay more than amazingly consequential roles in Chicago theater: I’ve been a doctor on Chicago Med, a protester on Chicago Fire, a news reporter on Chicago PD, a mayoral benefactor on Empire, and a coroner and juror for two shows that won’t premiere until 2017. And, for these programs and more, I also played the coveted Pedestrian With Auto role, thanks in no small part to my fiancee allowing me to drive her car to set. Thanks, honey. However, there has been no other role like playing a Fallen Priest on The Exorcist.

There’s one thing I should point out first: the folks who cast extras always make it a point to say that we should not approach the talent while on set. That’s never a problem with me for two reasons: (1) it just makes sense and (2) I don’t watch TV so I could only differentiate the talent from everyone else by their haircuts (cut, combed and styled, very obviously, in the hours before filming began = real actors). I have witnessed some yokels walking up to the talent, having a brief chat, and then being escorted off-set, never to be seen again.

But back to The Exorcist. For the role of a Fallen Priest on our first day, we filmed in the cold and unfinished basement of Trump Tower in Chicago – a fitting enough place for demonic clergy to hang out. Most of the time, there was a dozen of us regulated to some folding chairs hidden in the shadows while the amazing crew machine rushed around carrying equipment, lights, makeup bags and an assortment of other goodies. Eventually, the wrangler told us we were required on set. Twelve of us were lined up, complete with our dog collars, black suits and knee pads, and the cast began rehearsing. That’s when I noticed Geena Davis walk in and expertly deliver her lines. Wow, I thought, someone I actually recognize. I later recognized Francis Guinan, who played our evil bad priest boss Brother Simon, as a Chicago actor from “The Magic Play” at Steppenwolf (among many other things), but, hell’s bells, I was not there to stargaze. I was there to look foreboding, then, on cue from Ms. Davis, drop to my knees and slap my face on the concrete floor. The filming went on for most of the day, with the increasingly dirty (and dusty) dozen falling repeatedly to the ground. I was happy that one shot was specially set up to film my new friend Nick and I eat some Trump Tower concrete.

A couple of weeks later, the casting folks tried to pull the dirty, dusty dozen back for not one, not two, but three extra days. Seven of the background celebrities, as one director called us (a bit over the top there, I think), could not commit to that, so it was left to a mere five of us – Henry, Joe, Jim, Nick and me – to carry the proverbial cross. The five of us became fast friends for many reasons, not the least of which was we were stuck with each other for a few dozen hours sitting in the dark and eating the pretty good food Crafts and Services foisted upon us at random. When full-on meals weren’t served, we were given a selection of overly-healthy snacks and coffee, the former of which I stuffed into a pocket or two. They remain uneaten in my kitchen.

On Day Two, we shot a boatload of hours in an alley after dark, during which you can see one or two of us for a second. On Day Three, we shot an incredibly long day in Grant Park for a papal parade sequence. I must say, it was an absolute hoot hanging out on the street wearing priest garb – and not just priest garb, but prosthetic boils and cysts running up the side of our faces to signify possession or really bad acne – as people walked by en route to their jobs. Most were kind, many were deferential, some were utterly confused, and a smaller percentage were utterly dismayed to see a pox-ridden priest smoking a cigarette. I did thoroughly enjoy that day’s shooting, as I was given a lovely closeup or two, as were my fellow fallen angels, as our characters conspired to make peoples’ ears and eyes bleed in order to have our big bad boss bad priest go after the pope.

On Day Four, we shot in a warehouse, again for an amazing amount of hours. Extras are hired on a fixed fee basis of $84 for 8 hours, so the best days are those that are only three hours, for which you are paid $84 no matter what, and those that last well after ten hours, because you get a respectable $16 an hour for basically sitting in a chair and occasionally looking foreboding.

Back to Day Four. For other background artists, one can definitely see fatigue on some of our faces during some of the aired footage, as we were made to do a couple of scenes repeatedly for well over twelve hours. However, in that time, I got to watch Ben Daniels deliver a blistering speech along the lines of “I’m not dying for the bloody Church… I’m dying for Him!” I had to watch him deliver the speech a few times from my vantage point as a wicked vicar, and, after one tear-streamed take, he and I made eye contact. I could only think of doing what any other actor would do to another: I smiled and nodded with a “you nailed it” approval. He smiled back. Good lad.

I have to admit that I loved every second of it. The other four guys could not have been more different. Henry, the doctor. Jim, the rock star. Joe, the Indiana working stiff. Nick, the affable nice guy/actor. And me, the guy who was fired and was struggling to rediscover my footing in this crazy world. Despite or perhaps because of our differences, we all bonded strongly and instantly friended up on Facebook (it’s not official until it’s Facebook official).

Watching Episodes 9 and 10 of The Exorcist and remembering the work that went into it (and the friends that resulted) is a thrill for me. In a year with so few wins on so many levels, this was one of my favorites. Joy doesn’t often just show up at your door; sometimes you have to go and find the stuff.  And it was found here.

Thank you Henry, Jim, Joe and Nick for being the best bunch of guys one could be stuck in the dark with. Here’s to lighter days ahead.

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