Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Goodbye 2003, Hello 2K4. In the spirit of the day, I present Lists 2003.

Favorite Films of 2003
Old School
Laurel Canyon
Finding Nemo
Capturing the Friedmans
The Station Agent
Kill Bill, Vol 1
Big Fish
Dirty Pretty Things

Favorite Music Tracks of 2003
Crazy in Love -- Beyonce
In Da Club -- 50 Cent
Hey Ya -- OutKast
The Way You Move -- OutKast
Baby Boy -- Beyonce
Step in the Name of Love -- R. Kelly
'03 Bonnie and Clyde -- Jay Z (feat. Beyonce Knowles)
Clocks -- Coldplay
Right Thurr -- Chingy
Cry Me a River -- Justin Timberlake

Favorite Theatrical Performances 2003
Cast of Hairspray (Neil Simon Theatre - New York)
Elaine Stritch: At Liberty (Shubert Theatre - Chicago
Richard Kind in Bounce (Goodman Theatre - Chicago)
Michelle Pawk in Bounce (Goodman Theatre - Chicago)
Cast of Pants on Fire (Second City e.t.c. - Chicago)

Favorite Travel Destinations 2003
Glacier Bay National Park
Santa Fe, NM
Carmel By-The-Sea, CA
Beaver Creek, CO
New York, NY
New Orleans, LA
Nacogdoches, TX (I have never been treated better or had as much fun with total strangers)
Pittsburgh, PA
Butte, MT
Sip N Dip Lounge (Grand Falls, MT)

Great Folks 2003
Dan G -- constant friend, I'd be lost without him plus he no only gets tix to the sold out events but he gets great seats
Paul S -- he took a while to melt but he has one of the warmest hearts
Kava S -- if I could, I would be Pip by day and Kava by night
Dawn G -- steady rock and she ran a marathon
Craig U -- can make me laugh and keep me sane
Heidi F -- thanks for the chocolates and the many years of friendship
Dori G -- if u ever need a beard, she's the one
Danny F -- still friends, I can't believe it and I know he can't
Alan W -- has more heart than people give him credit
Albert W -- ditto
Jason W -- he really stepped up to bat when Dad died
Liz C -- wishing her stardom as big as her sweet little heart
Ed G -- my life coach and surrogate father even before my real father's death
Carrol G -- my biggest cheerleader
Paul H -- across the pond physically but in my heart always. see u in Amsterdam in three weeks
Paul P -- listens to my grief

That concludes Lists 2003. 2004 already looks promising. I am booked through Jan (always good). I leave for Vienna on Monday. I will see my friend Paul H (yet another fag actor) in Amsterdam for a brief holiday.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

There really is no business like show business
It is obvious to me that sorting through the death of my father is going to take some time. I'm going to take a break from writing about my paternal memories today so that I can talk about something I love: ME.

I am running on fumes. I say that figuratively but I must admit that I do feel a bit gassy at the present time. Today I am a temp receptionist in the Sears Tower. The job is a fairly easy and simple one. I greet guests and answer the main phone line. Since it is the end of the year and the holiday season, things are very slow. So basically, I am a glorified greeter, sort of like the old people they hire to give you a shopping cart as you enter Walmart. I smile (a lot). I wonder if the regular employees think I am incredibly cheery or mentally retarded.

I worked here yesterday morning as well. Yesterday was pretty much like this morning, lots of smiling and not much else to do but write this blog and surf the web. There was one major difference yesterday. Yesterday was Monday.

Every Monday at The Second City, the National Touring Company performs. I am a member of this prestigious company and my company (RedCo) is preparing for a limited engagement at Vienna's English Theatre in Austria. We are preparing a special show for the Austrians including two original musical pieces written just for these performances.

Yesterday I worked from 8 am to 1 pm as "the smiler" and then I rehearsed from 1:30 pm to 7:00 pm. I then performed two "preview performances" of our Austrian comedy revue at 8 pm and 11 pm before sold out audiences. Between shows our director gave us notes and after the second performance we saluted our senior cast member Kevin McGeehan.

Kevin's last performance with our group will be in Austria but last night was his last "home show." The Second City tradition is to allow departing actors to perform their favorite scenes during the improv set after the regular performance. And last night was no exception. Kevin had special guests come in and we performed a scene that Kevin and I co-wrote (well, he wrote it and we worked together on the re-writes) entitled "Pacific Rim."

It was long night but a great night all and all. Of course, there was partying after the two shows and the "McGeehan extravaganza" but alas I could only stay for a short while. I shared a cab home with our great musical director Joe Grazulis. I was in bed by 3 am and up again at 6:45 am so I could smile at people again at 8 am.

I have to note the passing of two great women. They are women that most people have never heard of but those of us "in the know" recognize that these two women made the world a little bit better.

So, I bow my head and give reverence to Helen Gustafson, who died on Dec. 14th and the great Isabelle Stevenson, who died on Dec. 28th.

I never had the privilege to meet either of these women but they both affected my life. Good night ladies.

Monday, December 29, 2003

I put a lot of thought into how I would tell Betty that I liked her. I wanted to be really cool about it. High school was just months away. I was going to be attending that stupid christian school and she would be going to Peoria Manual. I thought I might sing a song or write a poem that best expressed my love. An Officer and a Gentlemen had been a hit movie so I thought I would sing "Up Where We Belong."

...where the eagles fly on the mountain high...Time goes by, no time to cry, life's you and I.
A live today...

Yes, this was the way to go. After the service, I would get Betty alone on the playground and sing to her. If I was romantic enough, maybe I could just propose to her too. lift us up where we belong, Ah Ah Ah...

Everyone in my family seemed very excited about my graduation. Not only was the oldest child of my parents ill fated match up but I was one of the oldest grandchildren of both my maternal and paternal families. I was always considered intelligent and many family members put a lot of faith in their belief that I would be "somebody important." This graduation was just step one. In truth, I wasn't that intelligent. I was good at tests. Tests are like games. Once you figure out what the pattern is or once you find the "gimmick" you don't have to know anything.

Mom wanted to take me out to dinner (still one of my favorite activities) after graduation and I don't recall what Dad wanted to do but you can be certain that it was the exact opposite of whatever Mom wanted to do. Per usual, no one cared what I wanted which was the love and devotion of Betty.

As graduation neared, I worked at memorizing all the lyrics to "Up Where We Belong." I knew that I would be nervous and I didn't want to mess up. It was a Saturday, I believe, and I was practicing my big number when Mom called me to the phone. It was my Dad. He had bad news. My Uncle Bingo had died in California. He had either jumped or been pushed from a building in LA. I never did find out what officially happened.

My Dad was pretty upset but I wasn't. I don't ever remember meeting Uncle Bingo. I know that he and my dad were close. They hitchhiked to California together. My cousin Aunie was his daughter but I hardly knew her either. My Dad kept apologizing. "I'm sorry this has to come on your big day, " he kept saying. I couldn't figure out why it was such a big deal. I mean yes this guy was my uncle but I didn't know him at all. I didn't have any feelings toward him. I was just starting to feel comfortable around my Dad and my new family which now consisted of my new half-sister, Aleta.

The countdown to graduation became less and less about me and more and more about this dead uncle that I didn't know. Now that I am older I can see why my Dad was in such a state but I don't think he had my best interest in my mind. Per usual, he only thought of himself. I had less time to practice my love song for Betty because I was going to Lilly family gatherings. Gatherings that I really didn't want to be a part of but no one bothered to ask me.

Graduation day finally came. Mom who had worked so hard to send my sister and I to a private school was very proud. Dad was proud too but he really hadn't put in his share of parental work. You wouldn't know it from the fuss he made at the church. He wanted to everyone to know that I was his son. Frankly, I was a little embarrassed. Dad, dressed shabbily, showed up with my stepmother, 4 half-brothers, and my infant half-sister. None of my classmates had ever met any of these people.

"Those people are your family?", I remember Betty saying. That was it. I could tell by the look in her eye that she could never love me with my oddball misfit family. So, I chickened out. I didn't take Betty aside on the playground. I didn't sing my love song. I didn't profess my love.

After graduation, Mom took me out to dinner and the next day, Dad took me to a funeral. I wore the same suit from my graduation to Uncle Bingo's funeral. During the processional by the family, I looked into the coffin hoping to have some vague remembrance of this bloated cold black man in the box. I had none. My half-brothers cried. I sat rigidly.

Later that day, I heard Dad say that he felt responsible for Bingo's death. He feels that if he had been in California, his brother would still be alive. Within a few weeks he would leave Peoria again for California. I wouldn't see him again until I graduated from high school.

I eventually told Betty about my crush on her. By the time I told her she was married with children and I was living the life of an out gay man.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Part Two, cont'd
There are 5 things I remeber clearly about the seventh and eigth grade. I lump the two grades together because I was in the same classroom with the same teacher, Mr. Kruse, for both years. Ronald Reagan was shot; the Pope was shot; Anwar Sadat was shot and killed; my Dad moved back to Peoria; and my Uncle Bingo died just as I was getting ready to graduate from the 8th grade.

I went to a small Lutheran elementary school on the south side of Peoria. It was called Christ Lutheran School. My graduating class had about a dozen students maybe less. I remember Betty Sprattling because I had such a crush on her and I was determined that I would grow up and marry her. I spoke to her on the phone almost everyday and I got the biggest thrill out of it. I liked her so much but I was always so scared to tell her. I think I actually might have been addicted to the fear. So, through most of seventh and eigth grade, I only dreamed of being Mr. Betty Sprattling.

I wanted to tell Betty how I felt about her. I thought of a plan that I would launch after graduation. I figured we would be older and wiser once we got those eigth grade diplomas. After all, we were already teens. The plan was simple. After the graduation service (don't forget -- Lutheran School), I would take her to the playgrounds that we had seen everyday and I would kiss her and pledge my love always. This was to be the most romantic gesture ever.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

I'm going to take a break from writing about Dad. Today, I'm going to write about today.

Today begins with last night. Last night I was chatting online at when I was propositioned by a total stranger. Of course there is nothing unusual about the online hook-up, it happens all the time but personally I like a little more intimacy. The guy seemed nice and I kept thinking about how long it has been since I've made the beast with two backs. Maybe this is what I need, just a quick one with no strings attached. We made a loose date for today. I told him that I would meet him for coffee and if everything seemed okay then we could do it all day for all I care.

I have been suffering from insomnia for a couple of weeks now so sometime around 3 am I had to take a sleep aid. I awoke around 11 or 11:30 am thinking it was 8 or 9 am. I felt like shit. I wanted to stay in bed all day but I here I am expecting this guy to call me so we can know. I didn't much feel like casual sex with a nearly complete stranger so I just stayed in bed.

The phone rang around 12:30. It was my friend Dawn. Dawn had been ill with the flu and was finally feeling better. Dawn had a plan for the day. Dawn always had great plans. I met Dawn and another friend of hers named Luis for drinks at Starbucks on the corner of Belmont and Clark. We had a grand time people watching and mullet hunting . We left Starbucks and went next door to a great Japanese supply store on Belmont. I can't believe in ten years that I have never visited this store. It was wonderful. After 30 minutes or so in the Double Happiness Corp. we had to have sushi. It was 4:15 pm and Shiroi Hana had happy hour with reduced prices from 5-6 pm. The three of us bummed around the Belmont/Clark area for 45 minutes. We jumped in and out of thrift and vintage shops as we made our way to Uncle Fun. We never made it to Uncle Fun because across the street was a new place called Mister Fun and everything was $1.00. I bought two storage boxes.

After our frugal shopping spree, we made our way back east on Belmont until we got to Shiroi Hana on Clark. We didn't have to wait for a table and we at until we were stuffed ($50 for 3 people, if you can believe it). We followed up dinner by a quick trip into another novelty shop. Finally, we had to call it a night. Dawn and Luis departed for the train and I went further east to my friend Paul's apartment.

Paul is out of town and I am cat sitting until tomorrow. The computer that I am using now is in Paul's place. In the background is The Sound of Music. I haven't seen this musical in a very long time. It is a lot of fun. I am going to Austria in just over a week so viewing it right now is extra special.

It looks like I won't be getting together with my online guy but I don't regret it. You just can't beat good friends and Julie Andrews.

Friday, December 26, 2003

part two
There were two times in my life that I spent any significant time with Dad. The first time was in Peoria just before I entered the 8th grade. "I'm the man you're here to see," is what Dad said when I entered Grandma Lilly's place. I was frozen. "You not going say something, you waited all this time?" Dad said. I didn't speak. I thought about how similar Dad and I looked to each other. I thought of how Dad was so physically small and thin even to a small guy like myself. I thought about hitting him in the face and saying, "where in the hell have you been, asshole?" I didn't say anything. I just stood there. I wanted to go home. Take me back to my real family. I need my mom, my sister Michelle, and my pre-school aged brother Brian. I was still frozen. Frozen in time like that first second after you leap from a high place. "Come on man," Dad said, "I'm not a ghost." I didn't move a muscle. Dad came toward me put his hand on my shoulder. "Mama, we'll be back," he said as he pushed me towards the door, "there's some people you need to meet, they've been dying to see you."

We got in a car and Dad drove me to a grey house on the far northeast side of Peoria. We walked up the sidewalk and just as we reached the front stoop, the door flung open. "Pip! Pip! Pip! Pip!," they chanted over and over again. "There they go," Dad said, "I told you they were dying to see you. Shit, you're better than Santa Claus about now." I couldn't focus on the chaos happening around me. There were 3 small boys running in circles and chanting my name over and over at the top of their lungs. These boys were my half brothers. The smallest was Adrian but everyone called him AD. The other two were Albert and Alan, the twins that I had seen with Grandma Lilly. They pulled and tugged at me, "Pip! Pip!" Dad and the boys led me into a house that seemed extremely large because it didn't have much furniture in it. As we went further into the house, I saw a pregnant white woman and another mixed race boy. The boy was my brother Jason and the woman was my Dad's common law wife, Carlena. "How ya like your new family?," Dad said.

My new family. My new family was nothing like my old family. My Mom was the epitome of your strict orderly christian woman. In my mother's house, there was no running, swearing, drinking, smoking, drugs, staying up late, or lying. There was plenty of prayer, rules, chores, and women. Dad's place was Bizarro world. There were dust bunnies and the garbage needed to be taken out. The boys were running and screaming except Jason who was sitting near his mom.

I have to admit, I didn't like the boys when I first met them. I suppose that a small part of it was jealousy. Not only did they have both a mom and a dad at home. They had MY dad. They were also very unruly and I just wasn't used to their behavior. They took great joy in ganging up on me and teasing me about my other family. It's silly now but I remember them teasing me mercilessly about my maternal great grandmother whose name was Bessie. I didn't like the teasing or the rough housing. I just wasn't used to it. I was taught my whole life (by my mom) that this behavior was unacceptable.

It took a few months for me to get used to brand new family. I could never really figure out my place in the family. I was the "other son" and I felt like it. I always thought that meeting and spending time with my dad would make my life better but it didn't. It complicated things. Before his arrival in Peoria, life was whatever Mom said it was. Now the coin had two sides and I couldn't figure out if this was one of life's lessons or tests. My parents weren't very helpful in getting me through this confusing time. As a matterof fact, no one ever asked me how I felt. Instead I was shuttled from Mom's house (the church) to Dad's house (satan's lap).

My parents didn't get all. Up to this point, they never fought in front of me but I lived with my mother long enough to recognize a certain tone in her voice. This tone was worse than a shouting match. Occasionaly, I would hear exchanges like:

Dad: I'll bring him back by 10
Mom: NO, you'll bring him back by 9:30


Dad: What is Pip doing Monday?
Mom: I don't know, I'll have to see.

It was always a power play and I was the pot. Once I was spending time at my Dad's house, playing with my brothers and my brand new half sister, Aleta. I had a great time and I tired myself out. My stepmother put us all to bed. Sometime after we had gone to bed, I was awakened by my stepmother. "Get up," she said, "your dad needs to take you home." My Dad drove me home cursing and mumbling all the way. When we arrived at my house, I heard my parents fight.

They fought because my mother had insisted that my father bring me home by a certain time. My mom wanted to send me to a private protestant high school in Peoria and I was being tested the next morning.

Mom: I told you to bring him home by....
Dad: He was tired. We put him to bed. I would have brought him home in the morning. Relax.
Mom: Don't you tell me to relax. When I said I wanted him home by..., I expected to see him home by...
Dad: You are overreacting
Mom: No, I'm his mother. If I say I want him home then I want him home. And if you want to continue to see him then you'll realize that.
Dad: Oh so it's like that
Mom: Don't think you can come in here....

And that is all I remember. I stopped listening because they weren't really talking about me. They were using me as jumping off point for the sake of an arguement. Dad needed to be in charge, like he always needed. Mother needed to be right, like she always needed. I remembered how I wanted a two parent household with Mom and my real Dad but that night I was so glad they had broken up. They really didn't need to be together. He was too selfish. She couldn't get what she needed. I was alone.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Merry Christmas. This morning I went to a matinee of the film Big Fish. Tim Burton is one of my favorite directors and the subject matter (tall tales) combined with a story of a 30-something son trying to reconcile with his dying father spoke to me. My father died suddenly on June 28th this year. I never got to say goodbye. There wasn't even a funeral or memorial service because Dad didn't want either. My body felt nervous and figidy during parts of the film. Although the nervousness was never physically realized, it seemed so visceral. I was surprised that my body was not shivering and shaking. On the inside, I felt as if my nervous system had been thrown into overdrive. The very thought of it stirs the same jittery feeling inside.

My father and I were never close...NEVER. He and my mother were very young (18 and 16, respectively) when I was born. They were seperated and divorced within two years. Dad hitchhiked to California with my Uncle Darryl AKA Bingo. It was the most adventurous experience that Dad would ever have. On their first day on the road, Dad and Uncle Bingo met a kind soul that drove them several miles west of their oppressive lives in Peoria. The amiable stranger dropped them off with 5 marijuana joints and hope. They didn't have a final destination in mind. They just knew that when they got to the Pacific Ocean they had to stop. Dad couldn't swim.

No one on my mother's side of the family ever spoke of Dad to me. I once found a high school yearbook that belonged to Mom. It was aqua marine in color and had gold or maybe silver letters on the front. I opened it and quickly went to the index to find the name "Albert B. Lilly, Jr." He was listed on two pages. On one page was a smiling face much like mine. It was Dad's senior picture. His other picture was a group picture. It seems that Dad had been a member of the cross-country team. Although I was only 10 or 11, the irony was not lost on me. Here I was in Peoria and Dad was 1000s of miles away.

It was about this time in my life that my Aunt Sharon, my mother's older sister intervened on my behalf. She thought I should spend time with my paternal extended family. One December in the late 70s, I was out with my aunt when she pointed out a middle-aged women with two mulatto children. The woman was my grandmother Lilly and the mulatto children were my twin half brothers, Albert and Alan. Aunt Sharon arranged for Uncle Gerald AKA Big Gerald (my father's older brother) to take me to visit Grandma Lilly. Grandma Lilly lived in the Taft Homes, unit 55. The Taft Homes was a housing project that still stands on the near north side of Peoria. The Lilly family was one of the first family to move into the Taft Homes when they opened in the 50s. Grandfather Lilly was a musician. Grandma Lilly was a librarian and the kindest person you would ever want to meet. They also had 12 children (tres catholique).

I remember being very scared to visit my grandmother. I was partially scared because I was going to the projects. I was a hardly what you call a "tough kid." I was mostly scared because I didn't know any of these people though they were biologically connected to me as equally as my mother's family that I had known my whole short life. When I entered Grandma Lilly's unit the first thing that I saw was a wall of 8 x 10 photos. They were graduation photos of each of my grandmother's children (except DeeDee, who was still in high school). Right in the middle of the wall was a smiling face that looked like mine. It was a larger version of the photo I had seen in Mom's yearbook and it was in color. It was Dad.

Dad would stay in California for the next 10 years. He made the occassional trip to Peoria for brief visits with contentious family members. I never saw him in those 10 years. One day, I heard a rumor that Dad was back in Peoria. I was 12 years old. I don't remember how it happened but I do remember a day when I walked into Grandma Lilly's home to find the smiling man from the picture sitting on the arm of the sofa. He was smiling and he said, "I'm the man you came to see."

to be continued...

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Post 1

-- This blog is a replacement for my blog titled "I'm just glad to be here." I may one day resume writing that blog but for now this is where I need to be. My last blog was about my day to day business as a struggling actor and gay man in Chicago. This blog will feature similar stories about auditions, jobs, classes, etc. but I hope it will be a little more personal. My attitude has changed quite considerably over the last three years. I'm not just happy to be anywhere. I would have to say that my attitude is much darker but grounded.

I have spent the last three years working at The Second City in Chicago. I am a member of the national touring company. It is a great job if you don't like money very much. I suppose it wouldn't be such a big deal to me if I hadn't already had a couple of great acting jobs that play very well. What I don't receive in money, I receive in on-the-job training. It is the best acting job I ever had from that perspective. I have polished my comic timing and I have had the opportunity to write my own material. My director will often let me stage any musical numbers we perform (a job I find highly enjoyable). My company is preparing to go to Vienna, AUSTRIA in January 2004. I look forward to that. We are putting the show together now. Things are looking good but I can't help but I am a natural worrier so, I have some concerns. Being a bit of workaholic (not to mention my enormous ego), I like doing as much as I can on a show. If I could, I would be in every scene (not always as a featured player, I have had a lot of fun with no lines or just as a walk on).

Part II
Right now, I am covered in cat hair. I am cat-sitting for my friend Paul S. Paul S has two cats and the sweetest one is named Ruby. Ruby is adorable but she sheds like a 22 year old at a circuit party. She is loving though.

I need to say something special about an old friend of mine, Heidi Fagan. Heidi, I love you. The chocolates that you sent me for Christmas made me laugh and cry at the same time. It was such an unexpected and great act of kindness on your part. I love you. Those chocolates are my favorite gift of 2003. My best of Yma Sumac CD from Dawn Greer is #2.