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Stay For The Credits

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English 127 Portfolio
Stay For The Credits

If you're ever planning to attend some sort of reunion, do yourself a favor: skip the big “everybody who graduated the same year as you gets to show up” party. Instead, call your old buddies and hang out together. They don't even have to be classmates; they could just be people you knew in the past. Reunions are much more fun if the people in attendance are people you actually want to be reunited with- and that's the reason I thought the El Camino Real High School Class of 1984 Drama Geek Barbeque Jamboree was great. Well, one of the reasons…

Since it was a reunion, we were obligated to do two things: reminisce about how great things were in high school, and brag about how great things were now that we had left high school. Ty was a week away from marriage. Diane had moved to Minnesota to pursue the theatre. One of the Mikes tried stand-up comedy, and then fell into real estate; the other had gone to Berkeley and come back an attorney. Brian was doing post-production work. Carina (who now went by Elsa) had found Scientology, The Actor's Religion ™.

Then there was Katherine. Katherine was working as a technical publisher for a pharmaceutical company in South San Francisco . The work wasn't very interesting, but it paid well and had good benefits; and after a year with a broken hand and no insurance, she felt she could live with the tedium of a regular job for a while.

The party started with lunch at one. Everyone thought it would only last a few hours, but it didn't end until eight, when Katherine had to leave to catch a flight back to San Francisco . I was a little annoyed: During the seven hours we had spent at Ty and Kirsten's, I'd only had about five minutes alone with Katherine. I didn't even get to walk her to her car; Diane had stuck around until the bitter end. On the drive home I used directing Katherine to the airport as an excuse to call her- partly to make sure she knew where she was going, but mostly because I wanted to have at least a few more minutes of conversation with just her.

On Monday, Katherine and I went back to our email routine. We tried to decide who had the most boring life. Normally, I would have easily won, but I'd done a rare thing and actually gone out on a school night. She only went out on weeknights for her artists and writers meetings (which is like taking a creative writing class without asking for credit). Just to hammer home her already decisive win, she pulled out her trump card: Her Saturday schedule:

I'm looking forward to the weekend. Get back to my improv class - my one pure joy these days.  I'm there religiously every Saturday if I'm in town.  I've had many a man be annoyed that I'm always busy on Saturdays, but it's too important to me.

I said it would be different if I was there- she'd be the annoyed one because I'd go with her to the class:

I haven't done any form of improv since the glory days of high school, so you'd be stuck apologizing while I acted like a spaz.

Surprisingly, she didn't think that would be annoying; in fact, she thought it would be “a blast.” I replied that I'd have to come up some weekend and show off my lack of acting ability. Her response:

Empty threats mean nothing to me.
I'll believe it when I see you up here.

Now, I am not a man casually, spontaneously makes travel plans- I'm far too poor for that- but the gauntlet had been thrown. I wrote back:

Are you issuing a travel challenge to me? Is that what you are doing? Very well: I accept your challenge .

…and by the next morning I had booked a flight to Oakland and a reservation for the futon in Katherine's living room.

My flight landed in Oakland at 3:45 on a Friday afternoon, too early for Katherine to come pick me up. As I rode the train from Oakland to San Francisco , I went over the guidelines for the weekend, guidelines I had come up with without Katherine's assistance (or knowledge, or approval):

  1. This is just a visit.
  2. We are just friends.Don't mistake friendship for romance.
  3. Don't do anything to make Katherine freak out. I don't care how bohemian San Francisco is; you don't want to sleep on the street for two nights.

I arrived at her apartment just in time to leave. One of our goals for the weekend was to see the movie Sideways (the heartwarming tale of a man who uses wine snobbery to avoid intimacy and his attempting-to-cheat-on-his-fiancée pal) and our only chance to do that was that night. We took the train to the theatre, sitting next to each other on a bench that seemed designed for one person- maybe a big, half-Italian tourist-type guy- to put his arm around the other occupant, who might be, oh, I don't know, a girlfriend from his past. But my arm stayed at my side, because we were just friends. At the theatre, the arms of the seats seemed to be custom-molded for holding hands with cute semi-Irish girls; but my hand stayed empty, because we were just friends. When we got back to her place that night, we sat up talking about everything, anything, and nothing, but when we said goodnight she went to her room and I pulled out the futon with a mattress as sumptuous and plush as a slice of bologna. Because we were just friends, damn it.

The next morning we did Katherine's standard Saturday. Most of it was just fun-- walking to the farmers market down the street, going to dinner with her friends-- but then there was improv. The improvisational acting class was the heart of The Travel Challenge. Every Saturday afternoon, Katherine met up with a bunch of wonderful but insane actor-type folks who think that there's nothing better in the world than to have people stare at you while you try to make up clever stuff. I had made this trip specifically to take this class.

I am not unfamiliar with being on stage. On stage, I've dressed as Superman and fallen to my death. I've sung solos in a choir and laughed as I sang the wrong verse. If I have a script to work from, I am fine. But the idea of acting without a net scares the holy hell out of me. As a special bonus, I hadn't done any acting for twenty years. In fact, the last time I was in a play, it was in high school with Katherine.

As we rode the bus to the class, my hands becoming clammy and my stomach wadding itself into a little, wet softball, I tried to relax. I talked with Katherine:

“So, this class is, what, like an hour long?”

She looked a little confused. “An hour? No, it's three hours long.”

Three Hours? ” My stomach instantly went from softball to golf ball. Blood no longer reached my fingertips. I knew at that moment that it was my day to die, killed by a group of strangers who would murder me based on audience suggestions.

The class was not in a theatre- it was in a large, mostly empty meeting room in The Marina. There were a number of people there, and time was limited, so most of the improv exercises were mercifully short. Jim, the instructor, was an old hand at improv. He would announce some sort of silly game like “everybody, talk to the person next to you about something as long as you can without stopping”, and everyone would try to do it. When it was my turn to do something, I was able to grit my teeth and hang on until someone else was in the spotlight. Just before the break, the instructor assigned numbers to everyone. I had the same number as two guys I'd never met.

At the break, I asked Katherine what the numbers were for. She said something like, “It's for a play thing we do after the break.” Before she could explain further, we were outside with a bunch of the improv people, explaining how a guy from Los Angeles who hadn't acted in two decades ended up flying four hundred miles to take an improvisational acting class. When we walked back in, I had no idea what to expect.

Before class started up again, there was a period where everyone discussed class business: meeting times and costs, upcoming shows, big announcements. My intestines decided that this would be an excellent time to get emptied, so I quietly snuck to the bathroom.

After I'd taken a couple of minutes outside the class to calm down, I felt ready to return and discover the mystery of the numbers. I walked back in, expecting class business to still be going on- and saw three people in front of the class performing a play. Somehow, in the three minutes it took for me to relieve myself and wash my hands, the entire class had been given instructions on how to create a play. I was screwed.

When the actors finished, they sat down, and the instructor called out “Two!” Now I knew what the numbers were for. I waited for my number to be up.

When my number was called, I knew I was a dead man. Luckily, the other actors (who were very comfortable with improv) knew the same thing; whenever I appeared on stage they promptly shot me. I could lay on the floor and relax while the real actors did all the work. Finally, I had found an acting role I was comfortable with!

Just like we had done the night before, Katherine and I spent Saturday night in her living room, talking. And just like the night before, when it came time to go to bed, I took the futon and she went to her room.

The next morning was different. She sat on the couch, looked me in the eye, and asked, “Am I sending you mixed messages?”

Not sure how to respond, I counter-asked, “I don't know- are you?”

“I don't know.”

“Sure,” I said, trying to sound like I knew what I was talking about, “I've thought about kissing you. I see you sitting there, and I see your neck, and I think ‘Oh, I'd sure like to kiss that amazing neck.' But I also know that I'm really happy that we've managed to become friends again, and I wouldn't want to risk that by starting anything too fast.”

“Yeah, me too.”

Then it came to me: “Here's the deal: So you don't have to worry about me kissing you when you don't want to be kissed, I promise I won't kiss you first. I certainly wouldn't complain if you kissed me- in fact, I'd like it- but if you want to kiss, you'll have to kiss me.”

“Okay.”

And that was the end of it. Well, until that evening. I was sitting on the couch packing (is there anything more fun than packing dirty clothes?) and Katherine was puttering in the kitchen. As I packed, I thought about our last kiss twenty years ago, the only kiss in my life that was actually physically painful. The more I thought about it, the less I wanted that to be our last kiss- but I had promised I wouldn't kiss her first.

“Hey, you know how I said I wasn't going to kiss you first?”

“Yeah…”

“I'm going to change that a little bit.”

I stood up, walked over to her, and kissed her cheek. Then I went back to packing.

“You kissed my cheek.” She said it in a tone that I could not read.

“Yeah, well, I said I wouldn't kiss you first, but I really wanted to kiss you, so I figured your cheek was safe. I'd still be more than willing to kiss you on the lips, but you're going to have to tell me if you want to do that.”

The romantic comedy of my life would end like this: A thirty-eight year old man would pick up his bag and walk out of the living room of his high school girlfriend's apartment. As he entered the hall, he would look up to see her standing there, smiling, arms open. She would say “kiss me.” He would put down his bag, she would look up, he would lean in, and they would kiss.

And all the girls in the audience would go “aaawwww,” and the boys would say “I knew that was gonna happen.”

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