i choose to believe you
audio version (give it a listen instead or right click/control click to download)
I’ll get the play news out of the way. Things are going very well. Thank you, David. We had our first run through of the show last night, no scripts, straight through without stopping. I think we were all rather amazed at how much stuck. How much we remembered and were able to bring to life this early in the process. For me there was something beyond just feeling as if I am figured out this character, there was the amazing gift of being able to see my script, my words, brought to life in a more honest, funny and heart breaking way than I could have ever imagined. I made sure that I took a moment to myself to simply embrace how amazingly cool it is that this little idea, this simple story in my head, is now going to be a real production. Something that I am so very proud of and can actually see having a life beyond these 5 festival performances. Here’s hoping that some amazing off-Broadway theatre administrator or producer is reading this (well, that would be ridiculous but who knows) and decides to give this show a chance. We also made the MTWorks producer cry, as well as laugh hysterically, so that was completely gratifying.
All in all, I am trying to remember to take it all in, to feel the weight of my achievement, the unique pleasure of reaching a goal. It’s something that no one can ever take away from me, no matter what happens.
Okay, before you click away because I’m getting all kinds of sappy, here’s what I been thinking about this week. Now it does have to do with performing and the like, so bear with me.
A few weeks ago I was riding the train home in the middle of the day on a Saturday and a panhandler got onto my car. This is not an unusual occurrence but he was rather atypical. He was tall, a bit dashing and rather well put together. Jeans, button up shirt, and only a bit rumpled. His speech was so calm and measured that I actually couldn’t help but listen. His story was about how he was in a car accident a few months before and badly injured. He is now unable to work and has physical therapy multiple times a week. He went on to explain that his wife’s pay barely covers their expenses and the daily train travel for their family of four (two kids in school). At the end of the month (which it was at the time) they start to come up short so the last few days of one month and the first few days of the next became challenging. He was asking for help to pay the Con Edison (electric) bill and cover their grocery costs. He was eloquent and poised. And the most amazing thing happened, people started pulling out money. And I’m not talking about tourists; I’m talking about New Yorkers. Including me. I dug a dollar out of my bag, something I never do. I believed him. He was specific and warm, just a man in a bad situation. He nodded and smiled, thanking each person with eye contact and graciousness. Then he exited the car at the next stop.
There was this feeling of altruism in the car, a “helping your fellow human being” vibe. Then, as if on cue, another panhandler awoke from his nap across one of the subway seats. He was much less put together, unfortunately rather dirty and smelly with a plethora of plastic shopping bags filled with various bottles, papers and articles of clothing. He stood up, positioned his bags in his vacated seat for safe keeping, and proceeded to walk up and down the car shaking an empty, rather worn paper coffee cup. He grumbled a bit about being hungry and needing help. I actually felt sorry for him because he was following the act of such a vastly different man. And no one gave him anything. I don’t think it was just because he was hitting a saturated market. His performance wasn’t up to speed in contrast to the act before him. He simply couldn’t compete.
Now my approach to the people asking for money throughout New York City (and elsewhere) has gone through an evolution as I’ve lived here for a few years. At first, I wanted to give to people whenever I could, just a little, to help. Then I realized that it wasn’t logistically possible or personal practical to keep doing that so I stopped and simply tried my best, learning from others, to ignore them. Now this made me feel even worse. Not only was I shunning my fellow human being but I was behaving as if they didn’t exist. Not cool in my book. So I came up with an imperfect compromise. When someone asks me for money, I look them in the eye and say “Sorry, I can’t” or some variation of that line. I acknowledge his or her existence and tell them that I am unable to help. This is hard to do but infinitely easier than the cold shoulder. Someone did yell in my face once but you have to roll with the punches, accept the outcome of your actions and I would rather try to connect as a person and then deal with the result.
There is a rather sad ending to the today’s story, however. About a week ago I saw the injured father again. And this time he looked less refined, more disheveled. The sheen of the ‘hard-working man trying to care for his family’ was a bit less glowing. I thought it was me; perhaps I was less impressed or less open. Then he started to talk, and this is what broke my heart, the speech was the same. Still spouting the same details, end of the month, Con Edison, kids need to get to school, family needs to eat. But now it wasn’t the end of the month, his story suffered the same false echo that I was so used to hearing. The pre-programmed stories rattled off almost by rote on a daily basis. I hear dozens a week, the same people all the time. And they’re not necessarily lies. But this one was not the truth that I bought into so willingly only a couple weeks before. Was it me? Did I want to believe him because he didn’t yell, or call me names, or beg for pennies while shuffling about with garbage bags on his feet? Did I see that he wasn’t so different and if circumstances go one way instead of another that could be me or someone I know and love? Did I want him to be telling the absolute truth because I felt that I might actually be able to help this man and his family? Did I want so badly to be a part of something that felt human, and kind and hopeful?
I guess my broken heart, my disappointment, is of my own creating. I bought this man’s performance. Hook, line and sinker. I opened my heart and my wallet to him. Perhaps, as they say, a sucker is born every minute. And maybe he did need help again, maybe it was real. I’ll never know the truth. I guess I never want to stop believing in the goodness of people, and in my small ability to help others in some small way as we all go about our journeys. But perhaps I should also give out a few coins or dollars to the others just in case. The ones who call me “Red” and share their less coherent, less seemingly selfless stories. Who am I to judge someone else’s worthiness based on a few minutes on a moving train or when I pass them on the street? I might miss out on helping the one person who really needs it. And that would be the real tragedy.
Have a great week. Until next time,
Things I’m digging this week: Slings & Arrows (this week and always), He Who Laughs
Dream Role: Anything by Tracy Letts (I’d play a handbag in one of his plays)