One of my few formal portraits, I found this in my files earlier today. It was taken in 1979, some 43 years ago.
Saturday, May 7, 2022
This spring there seems to be more squirrels than there were last year.
Everywhere you look there are squirrels hopping across the grass, climbing the trees, jumping from one tree to the other, running along power lines, and chasing each other around stumps.
They even venture out into the middle of the street. Watch out, little fella, we don't want squished squirrel glued to our tires.
But after counting the growing number of squirrels throughout the neighborhood, I've come to the following conclusion. Squirrels are planning to take over the world. That's right. What we see as playful leaping and running about is actually tactical exercises for ganging up on us humans, conquering the world. Will they succeed? Probably not, but as we all know, they do act a little.... squirrelly at times.
When you see a squirrel running along the top of your fence, just remember they are actually outdoor rats with big fluffy tails. I know, that's harsh, but I've seen rats and I've seen squirrels and they are first cousins, to be sure. And we must remember that rats almost conquered the world at one time, with them carrying disease and all.
Squirrels are a little more subtle than that. First, they work their way into our language. For instance, when you "squirrel" something away, it means to store it in a safe place until you need it, meaning something like extra cash, or in my case, oatmeal cookies.
The aforementioned mental state of being "squirrelly" is another example. We all know people who act a little like that from time to time. If they start hiding extra acorns around the house, you know they are right on the edge.
Over the years squirrels have trained us to sit on park benches and feed them peanuts. Thousands of people around the world have a daily ritual of sitting on park benches and giving peanuts to squirrels. Come to think of it, if I knew someone who did that, I myself would probably just stop by and ask them how they were doing and what they thought the weather was going to do, and did they have any extra peanuts? Or maybe oatmeal cookies?
You may think squirrels are cute, innocent little animals, especially when you hear them chittering away in the tree branches. That chittering is actually their anger being expressed towards you for installing a squirrel guard on the bird feeder. Squirrels shouting obscenities is actually a well-documented biological phenomenon. Don't bother to look that up. Squirrel sympathizers have deleted all references of it from the scientific literature.
So watch out for those squirrels, their plans are in motion.
My personal battle with squirrels started shortly after I made fun of them with my mock poster advertising a "Squirrel Slinging Contest." On that poster I had told the (fake) story of how Farmer Brown started slinging squirrels off his property, and that created the annual squirrel slinging contest. Participants were judged on slinging squirrels in three categories of competition: (1) accuracy, (2) distance, and (3) the highest number of squirrels slung in a minute.
Take my word for it, squirrels do not have a sense of humor. If you cross a squirrel they will remember it for two, maybe three days. As the renowned squirrel expert Horace Metcalf once said, "Befriend a squirrel, they will remember you for two or three days. Aggravate a squirrel, and they will remember you for two or three days." So, it's a toss up either way.
But the important thing is their ultimate goal, taking over the world. You may not be ready for Squirrel World, but you might want to keep a bag of peanuts on hand just in case. Or oatmeal cookies, your choice.
Thursday, March 17, 2022
But this morning I woke up and decided to write a murder mystery. Here it is. It is called....
Murder at the Ornate Estate
The quaint little hamlet of Fleece was a quiet place, not a place where you would expect a heinous murder to take... place. Fleece was the sheep shearing capital of Pouty County, where sheep herding shepherds would occasionally bring their sheep herds to be shorn. The town's motto was "A Shear Delight."
It was a dark and stormy Monday morning as Inspector Hector settled at his desk at the headquarters of the Fleece Police. Hector was the Fleece police chief's right hand man, always ready to spring forth whenever called upon. It was around 9 a.m. when he got the ominous call.
"Hello," said a voice on the other end of the line. "Someone's been murdered at the Ornate Estate."
Inspector Hector sprang forth. "Who is this," he asked.
"My name is Tad Ominous. I am the Ornate's butler."
"Did you do it?"
"Did I do what?"
"Are you the murderer?"
"Er, no. I'm calling to report the murder."
"Okay," Inspector Hector said. "I was just hoping I could wrap this up quickly. Who is the victim of this heinous crime?"
"How did you know?" the butler asked.
"How did I know what?"
"How did you know the name of the murder victim was Harriet Heinous?"
Inspector Hector paused. "I will there in ten minutes. Make sure the crime scene is not disturbed."
"The crime scene will not be disturbed," Tad said."Harriet was the Ornate maid."
Ten minutes later Inspector Hector arrived at the scene of the crime, an ornately decorated mansion on the edge of the city. It was surrounded by lavish gardens and landscaped terraces of finely pruned green leafy things that grew in the dirt.
The inspector rushed inside. There, in the parlor, he found five people sitting in various chairs scattered about the room. On the carpet, in the center of the room, was a chalk outline of a person's body sprawled on the floor.
Inspector Hector gasped, looking at the chalk outline. "Where is the body? Who moved the body?" he demanded.
"The body's in the pantry," an elderly gentleman said.
"Well, who drew this white chalk outline?" Inspector Hector asked.
"That would be me," said a youngish dapperly-dressed man, stepping forward.
"Who are you?" the inspector inquired.
"I'm Nate Ornate, the heir to this fabulous house and grounds, which I am going to sell it all and live wantonly until I grow old and die alone of a drug overdose."
Inspector Hector looked at him. An honest chap, he thought. "Why did you draw this chalk outline on the floor?" he demanded.
The young man just shrugged it off. "Sometimes I have this sudden urge to do artistic things, draw things on sidewalks, the sides of buildings, people's cars. I always keep a piece of chalk in my pocket just in case."
Inspector Hector looked at him oddly.
"And you?" The inspector asked the beautiful slinky blonde who was sitting near the window. Even though it was a dark and stormy morning, just as Hector asked her this question, the clouds parted and a ray of sunshine came through the glass and illuminated her soft flawless face giving it the perfect air of innocence.
"I'm Charlene McQueen, the girlfriend of Nate, the spoiled heir," she answered.
"I see," the Inspector said, slowly averting his gaze. He then turned to the elderly gentleman who was wearing a finely embroidered leather jacket and expensive shoes and rings on his fingers that just screamed diamonds.
"And you must be the patriarch of this house, the famed philanthropist Ormond Ornate," he said.
Mr. Ornate nodded. "Your powers of observation are astounding," he said wryly. "You've been here five minutes, can you just tell us who murdered the maid so I can get on with my day?"
Inspector Hector stroked his chin, not because he was thinking, but because it itched. He turned to the last two people sitting in the room. One was a middle aged tall lanky dude wearing a "I Do It In The Dirt" T-shirt and jeans. The other was a small, prim and proper, expertly dressed man, well-groomed hair, wearing white gloves and holding a silver tray with cups of coffee resting upon it. Apparently one of them was the gardener and the other was the butler, but which was which?
"Hi," said the T-shirt guy, jumping up from his chair and walking briskly over to the inspector, reaching to shake his hand. "I'm Gary Gardner, the gardener," the T-shirt guy said. "If you don't mind I have some pansies to pollinate and some wisteria to wister so can we speed this up?"
Inspector Hector looked at him, then nodded. There was one last unidentified person who remained in the room, and by the process of elimination, Hector guessed it was the butler. His deduction was also prompted by when the gentleman asked him, "Would you care for a cup of coffee, Inspector?"
"Okay, now, all of you, listen carefully," Inspector Hector said. "I want the person who killed the maid to confess, right now. Just step forward and say that you did it, so you can all go back to whatever it is that astoundingly rich people do on dark and stormy mornings."
The elder Ornate nodded in agreement. He liked Inspector Hector's direct approach. No one stepped forward.
"Does that ever actually work for you?" asked the butler Ominous. Hector glared at him.
"Okay, we will do this the hard excruciating way," the inspector announced sternly. "I will ask you questions, and you will answer truthfully and completely. No lying allowed. If you try to lie to me, I just want you to remember - Liar Liar Pants On Fire."
He paused briefly for impact, waiting for them to finish envisioning that horrifying consequence. "We don't want that to happen, now do we?"
All five in the room looked at him like he had lost his mind.
"All right, the big three considerations," Inspector Hector announced. "Motive, Opportunity, and ...."
"Means..." said the elder Ornate.
Hector glared at him. "What do you mean Means?"
"The means," the elder Ordate repeated. "The means by which it was done..."
"Yes," Inspector Hector said. "It was pretty mean to murder the maid, but I am looking for who had the opportunity, the motive, and the capability of pulling off such a heinous crime."
"The means..." Nate Ornate said.
"Will you stop saying that!" the inspector declared. "Now where was I? Oh, yes, who of you had the opportunity?"
The five looked at each other accusingly, then realized they all had the opportunity. "We kind of all had the chance to do the dastardly deed," said Nate, and Charlene agreed. The gardener and the butler nodded affirmatively. The elder Ornate, somewhat irritated at how long this was taking, grudgingly concurred.
"Okay, let's move on to motive," the inspector ventured. "Who had a reason for killing the maid?"
"Well," the elder Ornate stated," she did spill tea on the carpet once. Hell of a stain."
Inspector Hector noted the indiscretion.
"And there was that time I tried to have sex with her, but she rebuffed me," said the younger Ornate, Nate.
"What?" screamed Charlene, somewhat alarmed by Nate's statement. "She rebuffed you? How dare she!"
The inspector made another little note in his notebook.
"And you, Miss McQueen, did you have a motive for wanting the maid dead?"
Charlene thought for a moment. "No, I don't think so. I didn't want her job. I didn't envy her in any way. I didn't want to wear her clothes, although it was interesting when Nate asked me to put on a chamber maid costume once when we were..."
Inspector Hector interrupted just in time, "That's okay. Thanks."
He turned to the gardener. "Okay, how about you Mr. Gardner? Did you have a motive for killing the maid?"
The gardener looked at him, tears welling up in his eyes. "Well, no, inspector. I loved her. I never would have done anything to hurt her, she was my moon, my stars, my very being, my very soul..."
"Okay, we get the picture, thanks for your candor," the inspector said.
"My reason to live, the center of my universe, the..." Mr. Gardner continued.
"Thank you very much, that will be enough," Inspector Hector stopped him. Then he turned to the gentleman carrying the silver tray with coffee.
"And you Mr. Butler, what was your name?"
"Tad Ominous, I told you on the phone when I called you."
"Oh, that's right," the Inspector recalled. "Did you have a reason to kill the maid?"
"I told you on the phone I didn't kill her," the butler informed him.
"I know you told me you didn't kill her, but did you have a reason to kill her, a MOTIVE?" the inspector raised his voice.
The butler stepped back, "No, I had no reason to kill her, none whatsoever, except perhaps for that little argument we had about how we were both in the old man Ornate's will and how we would both get a chunk of money if he died, and she wanted me to put drugs in his tea and then she would push him down the stairs so he would die and then she would get the money and be able to ransom her teenage daughter who is being held hostage by the drug cartel in Honduras."
Inspector Hector wrote furiously in his little notebook. "So, what would your motive be to kill the maid?" he asked.
"Well, I suppose if the maid was no longer in the will," the butler said, "then I would get her share of the estate as well, then I could rescue her beautiful daughter in Honduras myself, and we could live happily together in a small hut on an isolated beach on the South Pacific island of Moco Placo, just southwest of Bora Bora... not that I would actually be thinking of doing that."
"I see," the inspector said. "Well, that could be construed as a motive," he pondered. "Possibly the most inane convoluted motive for murder I have ever come across, but still the same."
"Wait a minute," the elder Ormond Ornate suddenly said. "My butler and my maid were conspiring to kill me?"
Nate Ornate, his worthless spoiled son who was also his only heir, smiled. "Right on, that's brilliant."
Even Charlene thought that was a great motive for the butler to bump off the elder Ornate.
"Just a moment," Inspector Hector warned them. "Let's not jump to conclusions..."
"Or fall to contusions," Nate Ornate laughed, referring to the proposed push down the staircase. No one caught his drift, however.
"There's one more element to this case, and that would be the capability of actually carrying out the deed," the inspector said.
"The means," the elder Ornate repeated.
Inspector Hector glared at him. "Yes, the means. How was the maid killed?"
Charlene suddenly pointed to the gardener. "He did it!"
The gardener was at first shocked by her accusation, but he quickly dismissed it.
"No, he did it. I know he did it. He loved her, but she rejected him. People are capable of doing anything when they are overwhelmed by love," she went on. "Isn't that right, precious?" she said, turning to Nate. Nate looked at her. She smiled.
"Is there anyone you would like me to kill?" Nate asked her.
"Someone comes to mind," she answered, slowly turning to look at the elder Ormond Ornate.
"Don't you look at me young lady," the elder Ornate remarked. "You, if anyone, are certainly capable of killing the maid. We all know how much you despised her."
The gardener leapt from his chair, screaming, "you did it! You killed the love of my life! Well, I have a good mind to write nasty comments about you on Twitter!"
Charlene recoiled in horror.
Inspector Hector, a little entertained, and yet somewhat annoyed by these outbursts, called for everyone to calm down. "Well, I see we have entered the 'everyone accuses everyone else' phase of the murder investigation."
The others calmed down and settled back into their chairs once again.
Just then the maid staggered into the room, a little groggy, and everyone stared at her in disbelief.
"Oh, excuse me for interrupting. I just passed out in the pantry I guess, a little too much grog last night," she stuttered.
Inspector Hector was aggravated by the turn of events, but a little relieved as well. Less paperwork, this way.
"You're alive!" the gardener shouted, tears of joy streaming down his face. He began to approach her for a hug, but she put out her hand as if in a warning. "You touch me and I'll kick you again." He backed off.
Just then the maid saw the chalk outline on the floor. "What the hell?" she yelled out. "What idiot drew this white outline on the carpet? That will take me hours to clean up!"
Nate Ornate sheepishly shifted his position in his chair, looking at the ceiling.
"You did it, you moron!" the maid screamed at him. "You and that little piece of chalk you keep in your pocket!"
Nate looked alarmed.
"I'm going to kill you," she called, rushing toward him in anger.
Nate, seeing no way to escape her wrath, jumped out a nearby window, which, unfortunately for him, was still closed and locked. He fell ten feet the ground, covered in broken glass, hopped up and began running for his life. The maid stopped at the window and yelled obscenities in his direction as he disappeared behind the kennels.
"Well," Inspector Hector frowned. "There just might be a murder at the Ornate Estate after all."
The elder Ornate called to the maid. "Harriet, come here."
She turned and reluctantly left the window, and came to her employer.
"Harriet, how much does the drug cartel in Honduras want in ransom for your daughter?" he asked her.
Her eyes widened, and she was somewhat surprised that he knew about her daughter's predicament.
"Half a million dollars," she said quietly.
"Go fetch me my checkbook," Ormond Ornate said. "We'll take care of this matter forthright."
Stunned, she left the room.
Tad, the butler, approached the elder Ornate. "Thank you, sir, for your generosity. I trust there's no need to mention that small matter of my conjecturing about taking her daughter to some remote South Pacific island," Tad Ominous said soberly.
"No need whatsoever," Ornate replied. "Now please get me some fresh coffee." The butler left the room.
"And you, Inspector Hector, I thank you for your deft handling of this situation and ask that you do me one small favor," he inquired.
"What is that?" Inspector Hector responded.
"If I am ever found at the bottom of the staircase, having fallen down and died as a result," he paused. "Please check me for drugs."
The inspector nodded. "It will certainly be foremost in my mind," he said.
"And inspector, on your way back to the police station, please give Miss McQueen here a ride into town and drop her off at the train station."
"Oh, but I'm not going anywhere," she objected.
"Oh, yes you are," the elder Ornate stated. "Now that Nate is out of the house, I'm having the locks changed, and the will re-written."
"I see, well, then, Inspector I would appreciate a ride to the train station, if you would," she said in a huff.
Inspector Hector nodded, bid adieu to the elder Ornate, and he and Miss McQueen headed out the front door. On the way back to town, they passed a locksmith truck and a window repair service van heading for the Ornate Estate.
Thursday, November 18, 2021
Well, you know you are getting old when someone gives you a lifetime achievement award. It's actually a little embarrassing. I usually try to stay in the background, behind the camera.
Most of my life has been about interviewing other people, taking their pictures, showcasing their contributions and accomplishments. So this award is really about them, the people of St. Tammany Parish.
I am being recognized tonight by the Cultural Arts Commission of St. Tammany Parish with the President's Lifetime Achievement Award for 2021. I've known Mike Cooper for years, when he was mayor of Covington, and now is Parish President. I knew (and took many photos of) his dad Ernest Cooper back in the 1970's.
The group asked me to provide some background of my life, and when I started compiling the list of things I have done, it kept getting longer and longer. So I shortened it considerably and here is the press release they sent out about this particular award. Click on the links in boldface for more information:
From the Cultural Arts Commission Facebook page:
In his spare time, he traveled across the parish, making copies of old faded photographs, in an effort to preserve them. He would present to various civic associations across the parish slide shows featuring hundreds of old pictures, as well as aerial photographs he had taken on several flights over the area.
His work history includes magazine articles published in several regional and national magazines, and his photographic work includes wedding and family portraits, pictures for legal cases, and slide shows for tourist promotion programs. For two years in the early 1980's he hosted a daily radio interview show over WARB in Covington.
I thought it would be useful to compile a list of books I have written. Some of them are available in printed versions. Those are linked to the book ordering page.
Here they are:
Reveling: science fiction about the investigation into alternate realities
The Gafferty Perspective: science fiction about discoveries regarding alternate health
The Gafferty Momentum: science fiction about covert manipulation of time perception
Cajun Gold: comedy about a Cajun who finds 200 lbs. of gold in the woods
Tibert's Swamp Stories: comedy about Tibert the Cajun and his misadventures
The Bridges of St. Tammany: information about the history of bridges in St. Tammany Parish.
The Southern Hotel: A Covington Legacy - History of the Southern Hotel
The History of Sun: An account of the history of the Village of Sun
The Pictorial Maps of Ron Barthet: Collection of cartoon maps
Posters of Imaginary Festivals and Conventions: Humorous posters advertising non-existent events
The Time When: A time travel novel about second chances
Folsom: Yesterday & Today A scrapbook history of Folsom with maps and photographs
I've also helped Don Sharp publish a couple of books, one on the History of Lacombe and the other the History of the Amite River.
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
Last night I dreamed I was helping a guy search for a feldspar mine. In the dream, feldspar was prized for its piezoelectric properties.
The dream was so real and strange that it woke me up, and in an effort to go back to sleep, I tried to not think about feldspar. I had no idea of what feldspar is (other than some kind of gemstone or mineral). So, not being able to go back to sleep with those questions on my mind, I got up, went to the computer and looked it up.
Feldspar is not rare. It makes up 60 percent of the earth's crust. There are a number of variations of it that look different than general run-of-the-mill feldspar. Some of those varieties have piezoelectric properties. What are piezoelectric properties? Here is where it gets complicated.
Somewhere in my memory I recalled that piezoelectricity is created when you press on certain substances. Wikipedia says this about it: "Piezoelectricity is the electric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials—such as crystals, certain ceramics, and biological matter such as bone, DNA, and various proteins—in response to applied mechanical stress. The word piezoelectricity means electricity resulting from pressure and latent heat."
So how I knew that is a mystery. Piezoelectric materials are used a lot in electronics, when you press on them, they generate an electric potential, and that makes something else get actuated. The reverse is true as well, when you apply electric current to a piezoelectric material, it changes its shape to a small degree. That also comes in handy in some electronic applications.
As it turns out, Feldspar is infinitely amazing. At least some people think so .
Whenever you search on Google the name of a mineral or crystal or gemstone, you will get the plain vanilla definition of it to start off with. But you will also get an overwhelming number of search results from various gemstone dealers, rock shop owners, metaphysical practitioners, and other interesting folks who think the mineral/gemstone/crystal has super powers to affect your health, wealth and psychic abilities. I am not kidding.
Feldspar, for example, is defined as the name given to a group of naturally occurring alumino-silicate minerals containing varying amounts of potassium, sodium, calcium and/or lithium. The term feldspar encompasses a whole range of materials. Most of the products we use on a daily basis are made with feldspar: glass for drinking, glass for protection, fiberglass for insulation, the floor tiles and shower basins in our bathrooms, and the tableware from which we eat. Feldspar is part of our daily life.That's the cut and dry definition.
Falling under the broad feldspar category label are a number of specific gemstones: Albite, Peristerite, Andesine, Anorthite, Bytownite, Labradorite, Microcline, Amazonite, Oligoclase, Oregon Sunstone, Orthoclase, Adularia, Moonstone, Sanidine, Perthite, Sunstone, Microcline: Triclinic; Orthoclase: Monoclinic; Sanidine/Anorthoclase: Monoclinic; Plagioclase: and Triclinic.
Some feldspars feature Luminescence, which means under certain conditions, they glow. No other raw material is closer to being a complete stoneware glaze on its own than feldspar. The academic study and the real world applications of feldspar go on and on.
The off-the-wall definitions of what feldspar can do are a little bizarre.
According to FireMountainGems website, Feldspar is believed by metaphysical adherents to be a gemstone of creativity. Feldspar helps with finding unconventional and exciting ways to achieve goals by stimulating creative thinking. Feldspar increases your self-respect, self-esteem and self-awareness.
Feldspar is believed to help to align our chakras, subtle bodies and meridians and is good for astral travel. Feldspar is associated with the astrological sign of Aquarius.
According to the website healingwithcrystals.net.au Feldspar can help women by increasing their self respect, self
esteem and and self awareness. "It helps you in honouring yourself as a
woman, honouring your sexuality and ability to create new life. This
stone will help you, if you have the habit of continually selecting the
wrong partner by helping you acknowledge that you are valued as
yourself not as an extension of someone else. The mineral feldspar
provides you with feminine, moon and Goddess energy." So, there's that.
A particular type of Feldspar, Amazonite, is said to help in cell regeneration and healing after trauma or injury. "It is an excellent stone to use for gout and arthritis. It assists in preventing hair loss and helping to repair brittle hair and nails. It can help balance the thyroid and adrenal glands, especially when they are overtaxed by excessive stress or emotional repression."
Friday, November 12, 2021
Monday, November 8, 2021
We filled it with brochure racks offering brochures and business cards of a wide variety of businesses, motels, tourist attractions, real estate agents and other items of interest to people driving off the north end of the Causeway.
The Northlake Welcome Center staff included Karen Hays, myself, and a couple of others, but as time went on, those volunteers had others things to do than wait for people to walk in the door.
It was successful at the beginning, but as time wore on, it became seasonal and the traffic dwindled. We were asking local community supporters and businesses to advertise on a monthly basis, but it wasn't enough, so we had to close the doors on the operation.
A few years later the St. Tammany Tourist and Convention Commission opened up a tourist information center over on La. 59 north of Interstate 12, spending a lot of money on a building of considerable architectural presence, basically a backwoods camp style structure on pilings over a swamp near Koop Drive.
It helps if tourist welcome centers have some sort of government funding in the form of a dedicated tax base, I guess. The Northlake Welcome Center did not have that and although it was fun to do and we met a lot of great people, it was just ahead of its time.
Thursday, August 5, 2021
Thursday, July 22, 2021
Every so often, I write a short story. Here's the latest one:
The Actor Who Couldn't Act
Doing business in Los Angeles is always a challenge, although a certain sparkle does come in your eye when your boss tells you he needs you to fly to LA to get some contracts signed. There are people in the world who still want to do business with you face to face, who don't trust the internet, and who, basically, don't mind making you spend a thousand dollars for plane tickets, a rental car and maybe a lunch or two just to spend ten minutes with them signing documents.
But there I was, exiting the West Coast office of Fortner Provisions Unlimited, with next year's contracts signed, notarized and secure in the folder tucked under my arm.
I used to carry a briefcase, but they are obsolete now. Who needs a briefcase when there are only a few pages to carry, and besides, when you lug along a briefcase, you tend to put things in it you really don't need. And if it is stolen, as well it might be, you've lost the papers, the things you didn't really need to bring, and a relatively expensive box with a handle.
So I was hurrying down the sidewalk, heading for where I parked my rental car, and I saw a guy sitting in a doorway with a cardboard sign propped up next to him. The sign said, "Can't Act."
He looked a little down and out, not completely down and out, not a bum, but someone who was definitely having a bad day.
If you came to Los Angeles in the hopes of becoming an actor, not being able to act is somewhat a downer. Los Angeles is, after all, the place where people go when they want to become actors and make it big in the movies. Hundreds of people, thousands of people go there, finding an overwhelming infrastructure of agents, acting schools, scriptwriters, publicity shot photographers, and all the rest of the support system for aspiring actors.
I stopped for a moment to read the sign, look at him and consider giving him a buck or two to buy a meal. "Can't act, huh?" I said, motioning towards the sign. "At least you admit it." I tried to sound humorous.
He raised his head and smiled weakly. "Didn't take me long to figure it out. One or two movies, and it becomes pretty obvious," he said.
"So you did get a couple of movies under your belt?"
He nodded. "Yes. Then I decided that acting required skills that I didn't have."
"Well, I hear they have acting schools out here," I responded.
He laughed a small laugh.
"As it turns out, I'm not bad at acting, I'm not good at acting, I just cannot act."
I knew I was going to regret this, but I saw a diner next door and nodded at the stranger on the doorstep. "Come on, I'll buy you lunch, you can tell me what happened."
He tilted his head slightly. "I'm not a bum asking for a handout. I just put the sign out to let people know I can't act. Don't ask me to act, don't offer me money to act, I'm just not capable of doing it."
"Come on, I'm flying out of here in four hours, and instead of waiting at the airport, I'd be interested in hearing how you came to that conclusion."
He shrugged and stood up. He walked towards the diner door, not with the hunched-over resignation of a man with broken dreams, but with a certain air of authority. He joined me at the door of the diner, and we went inside.
We took a seat near the window and the waitress brought us the lunch menu, single sheets laminated in plastic. He looked at the menu and laughed. "What's so funny?" I asked.
"Oh, I was once offered a script to read in which a super spy took a laminated plastic restaurant menu and cut a man's throat wide open." He chuckled and started reading the special for the day.
I sat in stunned silence for a couple of seconds and really began regretting inviting him to lunch.
He noticed my concern. "No really, I'm not trying to scare you. I really did read a script where this super agent fought off a whole bunch of bad guys armed with a laminated menu. It was so ridiculous I just tossed it aside."
I did manage a nervous laugh at that point, and went back to reading the menu. He ordered a chicken fried steak, and I chose the hamburger.
"So, what made you get into acting?" I asked, launching the conversation.
He pondered for a second, looking in the air. "Well, I guess almost everybody wonders at one time or another if they would be good at acting," he began. "You see a movie and you think, 'I could do that.' You know there are stuntmen for the action scenes and body doubles for the nude scenes, so you think, yeah, I did a play in high school, I could go to Hollywood and do movies, become a big star..."
I nodded. "Yes, that's the dream. Even I thought about it once..."
"When you were eighteen, right?"
"Yes, that's about when it hits you. Why work for a living when I can be rich and famous just being in the movies," I said.
He became a little more at ease and leaned back. "Yes, that's the dream. And I thought sure, why not try? So I came out here, did all the grovelling I could stand, got a few parts, even got second billing in some major productions..."
"So you did get some real acting gigs?" I asked.
He said," Sure. I was on screen with some pretty big names. I didn't have a title panel all to myself, like the big stars do, but my name was up there on the screen for a couple of seconds, so I was known, for a while."
"So what happened," I asked.
"You read the sign," he answered. "I can't act."
I must have looked puzzled.
"Those first two movies I was playing characters who were exactly like me, I was playing myself," he explained. "It takes absolutely no acting skills to play yourself."
I had to agree with that.
"Now there are some pretty big names in Hollywood, successful beyond belief, who got to where they are by playing themselves. They could sell tickets just being themselves, so nobody offered them a script where it required any real acting skills. The only movie characters they were tapped for were movies that fit them like a glove. And that's okay. Money was made, and bills were paid."
"But along came my third movie and there it was, a character that didn't really fit me, a starring role that I couldn't pull off because it required me to act. And, like I said, I can't act."
"But anyone can act, all of us act from time to time, surely you could take some acting lessons or something," I said.
He cringed a little. "Acting lessons work when you are bad at acting and want to become better. Me, I can't act, and you can't make better what doesn't exist in the first place."
"But you were good in the first two movies," I replied.
"Playing myself..." he reminded me.
"And acting isn't always what people think it is," he went on. "You not only have to pretend to be someone else, reciting lines from a script that someone else wrote, but you have to pretend that they are your own words, coming out of your own mind."
I thought about that for a moment.
"It's not easy," he said. "Here you have read a script, all hundred pages of it, everything you do and say are all laid out from beginning to end. Your emotions are all spelled out, how you are supposed to say the words, what feelings you are to convey. You not only have to memorize the words, but you have to say them like they just popped into your head. Not only say them like you mean them, but also say them like they are coming out of your mouth for the first time. Like a real person, a real person who doesn't think about what he's saying, he just blurts it out."
"Then there's the director and his take. How HE wants you to say the words. And if you don't get them right the first time, the director keeps shooting one take after another, each time a slightly different version of saying the same line. "
"A friend of mine once had to do a shot, a shot that was three seconds long, where he said 'well howdy.' You would think: how many different kinds of ways are there to say 'well howdy'? Well, it turns out there were 46 takes on that one shot, 46 different ways of saying 'well howdy."
I started to laugh, but he continued.
"The script didn't offer any hints whatsoever. It just said "Tex looks up and says 'well howdy.' So the director had free rein to decide what kind of 'well howdy' he wanted. They shot enough film to jam a projector, but they did 46 kinds of 'well howdy' and even then the director wasn't fully satisfied."
"Three seconds of screen time, but it took 46 takes, an hour and a half of saying 'well howdy' over and over again. Enough to make you puke. "
I stifled a laugh, because I could see this was a serious concern on his part. "But I'm sure the one 'well howdy' that got into the movie was the best 'well howdy' that's ever been seen," I said.
He shook his head no. "Naw, it didn't make it into the movie. My friend's entire part got cut. Nature of the beast."
He then recalled one script where he was supposed to look at a computer screen with 'alarmed indecisiveness.' "How in the hell does somebody look at something with 'alarmed indecisiveness?" he asked.
The waitress brought us our meal, and we set about eating in silence for a moment.
"Anyway, that's the real work in making a movie," he began again. "Not just memorizing and saying the lines, not just showing the right emotions, but saying the lines and portraying the emotions over and over again, for multiple takes, in minute variations each time according to the whims of the director. He's the boss, and when he wants a line said a certain way, then everything stops and the same shot gets done over and over and over until the actor gets it just the right way, according to the director's vision."
"The director's vision," he repeated in disgust. "Don't get me started on that. Everybody working on a film has a vision of what it should be, but his is the only one that counts. His and the budget office that tells him when he's going over budget."
The other big part of making movies is waiting, he said. "Nothing like saying a ten second line, then waiting an hour while the cameras are re-positioned and the lights are re-aimed. I've had some pretty good poker games while waiting for the director and the crew to get ready for the next shot."
I sighed. "Well what about you and your revelation about acting? When did that hit you?"
"Well, on that third film, the script was asking me to play somebody totally unlike myself. In other words, I was going to have to act, actually act. That was not pretty."
I took a bite of my hamburger and paused. "How long did you last? A day, two days?"
He looked up as if trying to remember. "Well, you have to realize that time is money in the movie-making business. If something isn't working, the director knows it pretty quick. He isn't going to do 46 takes of something that stinks to high heaven the first couple of times he calls Action! So it quickly became apparent that I was not going to be able to pull it off, my character."
"What kind of character was it?" I asked.
"Some slimeball, a jerk. Somebody you would think, well, I can do that. I can pretend to be a slimeball jerk. I know what a slimy grimy ripoff artist looks like and acts like. I can do that."
"And?" I said.
"I couldn't do it, I couldn't pull it off. No matter how much the director coached me, no matter how much he set the scene, made up some background for the character, it only took a few minutes for him (and me) to realize I wasn't carrying through. I am not a slimeball jerk ripoff artist, so I couldn't pretend to be one. "
I sat back and paused. "Because you can't act."
"You got it,"he laughed, taking another bite of his chicken fried steak.
"Well, if you can't act, then you really can't say you're an actor," I pondered.
"Oh, I'm an actor. I've got the movies to prove it, the screen actors guild card to prove it, and my mother tells everyone her son is an actor. There's just this one little problem..."
"Well if your mother thinks you're an actor then it must be so," I said.
He nodded. "Being an actor is not like anything else in the world. If you call yourself a plumber, then you damn well should be able to install and fix plumbing. If you're a lawyer, you're pretty much on the line for knowing the law and getting your client off the hook."
But acting is in a class by itself, he said. "Parents don't want their children to lie, don't want them to grow up play pretending to be someone else or mouth off words that aren't their own. But they are thrilled when those same children decide to become actors."
"What I'm getting at," he stated, "is that if you try hard enough you might be able to become something you're not good at. If I was good at flying a plane, I would have to be a pilot because you don't become good at flying a plane without doing some piloting along the way."
I was getting confused. "So what's your point?"
He carefully framed his words. "Being something and being good at something are two different things. Becoming an artist means you are capable of creating art, but having the skills for creating art doesn't make you an artist."
I disagreed. "An artist is an artist," I said. "Whether or not he produces art is besides the question."
"Or is it," he questioned. "Are you an artist if you don't produce art? Are you a pilot if you don't fly a plane? Are you an actor if you can't act?"
I frowned. I didn't like where this was going, especially since I didn't know where this was going. "Well, speaking of pilots, I have a plane to catch," I interjected, wrapping up the meal and the conversation. "I can let you have some money if you're tapped out," I said, standing up.
"Thanks, but I have some money saved up from the first two jobs I did, plus some other bit parts. I'm doing okay."
"But what about the sign?" I asked.
"You'd be surprised how many people read the sign and offer to buy me lunch because of it."
I laughed. "Well, you sure got me. So this is some kind of acting exercise?"
"More like an investigation," he answered. "Actors are supposed to study people, but in trying to do so, I have discovered an amazing thing," he said.
"What is that?" I asked.
"In general, people are hard to 'study,' because every one is an individual. You can study an individual," he explained," but that's doesn't do an actor much good as far as learning what people are like and how they think and what they would do in specific situations. Individuals are a wild card. No telling what a real individual will do.
"Psychologists love to categorize people, stick labels on people, generalize and compartmentalize people, but everybody is different," he said, "and when a script calls upon you to be a particular type of person, a certain kind of character, you not only have to 'act' like this imaginary character, you have to 'not act' like anyone else. Acting not only requires you to pretend to be someone else, but at the same time you have to pretend to not be yourself," he said.
I began to think that this was getting a little too technical for me to comprehend, but he was obviously interested in his craft. Too bad he couldn't act.
In an effort to wind down the discussion, I said, "Well, you are lucky that most movies nowadays have enough special effects and stunt work to give the actors a break."
"It just makes it harder," he replied. "Fortunately I'm not the action hero type."
I laughed. "Few people are," I commented. "Well thanks for the movie business insights. I've learned a lot, mainly how I don't want to become an actor."
He stood and we shook hands. "Acting is grueling work, emotionally-draining, maybe financially-rewarding, and possibly the best damn job in the world," he smiled. "People are still giving my agent scripts for me to read. Hopefully there will be another one where I can just play myself. Otherwise I may have to find a way to make a living doing something useful."