Read Pushing Upward Online

Authors: Andrea Adler

Pushing Upward (25 page)

What the hell did
that
mean?

Often the teacher, when confronted with such entangled folly, has no other course but to leave the fool to himself for a time, not sparing him the humiliation that results.

Fool? Humiliation?

This is frequently the only means of rescue.

To what?

For youthful folly it is the most hopeless thing to entangle itself in empty imaginings. The more obstinately it clings to such unreal fantasies, the more certainly will humiliation overtake it.

This throw was way off. None of this was accurate. Not a single line.
I'm throwing the coins again.

I took the coins and placed them in my hand, closed my eyes, and shook them really hard this time. I wanted to be sure the dimes were tumbling freely. I dropped them onto the bed. Two heads and a tail. Eight. I drew a broken line on the legal pad and then picked up the coins. Three heads. Nine. I drew a straight line right above the broken line. I threw them again. Three tails, three tails, three tails again. I drew three broken lines above the straight line and then picked them up for the last time and closed my eyes. Afraid to see what the last throw would be, I dropped the coins. They came up three heads. I didn't have to draw the straight line. I knew what the hexagram was. It was number 4—again. Youthful Folly.

I'd planned on throwing the coins on Jerry, but I fell asleep.

Chapter 22

After the change is made, it is necessary
to note carefully for some time after
how the improvements bear the test of actuality.

Decked out in thick black-framed glasses, with a thin, unsure-of-himself body and a heavy New York accent that cracked everyone up whenever he delivered a line, Bill Fleishman was someone it was hard to stand next to and maintain a straight face. Even though his jokes weren't that funny, his Silly Putty face, ­contorted into a cartoonish character, made me break my concentration every time. He had a crush on me, for sure. But he knew, without any proclamation from me, that this heart belonged to someone other than him.

Like some frustrated, underpaid journalist from the
National Enquirer,
Bill filled me in on the history of each actor. As we sat in the audience, waiting for our scenes to be called, he gave me the scoop on Marlene Kennedy, Bob Driscoll, and Frank Geraldi, as they were called up onstage.

Marlene, he told me, had once been a sought-after child actress, repeatedly cast in soap operas and commercials. Marlene was about thirty-five now, at least that's what Bill had guessed as she paraded across the stage with her husky voice, flaming red hair, and a pair of knockers that would make Zsa Zsa seethe with jealousy. She'd been touring in
The Music Man
and
The
Sound of Music,
Bill said, “before her career shifted from acting to drugs.”

“She must have been quite a knockout,” I said.

“She's not too shabby now,” Bill responded, “even just out of rehab, divorced, and bringing up three boys on her own. This show, I bet, is her return from exile.”

Bob Driscoll was chosen, without question, for his body type. He certainly couldn't act. A tall, lanky man, Bob looked awkward onstage. Perhaps the director cast him solely because of this attribute. Personally, I didn't think the man was going to last through the production. Bill didn't either.

Frank Geraldi was familiar to everyone, known worldwide as the potato-chip king. His face had graced national television commercials for years. Bill said he wouldn't be a bit surprised if most of the audience would be coming to see Frank. “That would be grand,” I told him. “I hope all his fans come so they fill the chairs and then tell their family and friends.”

“Ya know,” Bill remarked, “our director's been through the marriage door a couple of times himself. He's got at least three kids that I know of.” That was of interest to note.

Bill stopped gossiping, and we watched as our director began to work his magic. All eyes were glued as Mr. Cahill stopped the scene and asked the actors to imagine that they were in another country, another time period. He wanted them to explore different scenarios, so they wouldn't become one-dimensional. It was captivating to see what happened to each actor when they resisted versus when they surrendered and let go. There was an immediate distinction that either stopped the action or moved it forward. What an education I was getting, sitting here watching these actors play this out.

Allen Cahill knew the art, heart, and soul of directing. He knew how to pull out core emotions you didn't even know you had. And then he'd mold them without your being aware of the adjustment, allowed you to go off on tangents for long stretches of time, knowing just how far to let you roam before bringing you back to center. As much as he had a passion for control, he knew when to give it up. His innate gift for finding the subtext in each scene, adding just the right touch of spice, like a seasoned chef, to each vignette, was compelling to observe.

He was explosive and contained, sensitive and firm, always aware of what he wanted and when. And as I sat there melting in the chair, ignoring the fact that Bill Fleishman was still next to me cutting jokes, I watched this master magician in action.

We were deep into rehearsals, and I was growing impatient that Allen hadn't come over to me, other than with comments about the play. We hadn't shared any more lunches. As much as I wanted to stay detached, I craved more of those encounters. I just didn't know how to make them happen. I didn't want to be demanding. Our director seemed to be moving through a tumultuous time. I couldn't tell if it was personal or professional, but something was off.

This morning, he was deep in thought as he circled the back of the auditorium. He was pacing. I knew he wasn't thinking about the scene. The conviction in his voice was missing. Instead, he was spacey and withdrawn. There
had
to be something going on, because Mr. Cahill never once acknowledged what had happened between us. And there were just certain signs within the universal law of male-female attraction that were undeniable. Like when two humans came close and waves of electricity ignited between them so unmistakably that if you touched either person, you would get a shock. How could he not have experienced this exchange?

When we did speak, he would canvass my face, stare at my lips, search my eyes for confirmation. I knew he wanted to know if I was attracted to him, if I was interested in pursuing the relationship further.
Jesus, why doesn't he just ask?
I wondered. Maybe he was too familiar with the dangers of getting romantically involved during a production. Maybe he was shy. Maybe he was smart and cautious.

“Sorry to bother you, Ms. Billings,” the stage manager said, handing me a note. “I was asked to give this to you right away.”

“Thank you.” My first thought was … something terrible had happened to Emma. I quickly unfolded the small yellow paper. Instead I read: “Can you escape for a few minutes and go for a ride? If you aren't outside at 12:15, I'll understand and call you later. I'm in a dilemma. Hope you can make it. Jerry.”

Hmm.
I looked at my watch.
It's almost noon, I've already rehearsed my scenes for the morning, and I'm not scheduled again until after lunch. Allen wouldn't miss me. Or maybe he would.
I took the script, grabbed my jacket, sidled quietly out of the theater, and ran to the corner café to get a salad and a Tab. Then back to the theater …

Jerry was there, waiting, in a blue Audi. His puppy-dog eyes smiled as he leaned over and opened the door.

“Hi, Sandra. Sorry for being so last-minute. I need a second opinion about something and thought you might like the break. Can you spare a few minutes?”

I got in the car, closed the door. “Perfect timing! I
can
use a break. How are you? Did you get the message I left? Thank you so much for the flowers. They were beautiful.”

“I did get your message, and you are very welcome.” Jerry started the car and off we went. I had no idea where.

“Oh, Jerry, I still can't thank you enough. If it weren't for you, I would never have known about the audition.”

“Good things happen to good people. How's the play going?”

“It's wonderful, challenging, exciting. By the way, didn't I have to be an Equity member to get into this production?”

Jerry smiled again. “Actors are allowed into productions without representation or guild affiliation as long as the director is willing to sign a waiver. You can get your Equity card anytime now. As far as an agent is concerned, there'll probably be a few in the audience opening night.”

“Please don't tell me that. If I start thinking about opening night and an agent, I won't be able to function.”

“Bert told me you were staying with his friend Emma. I saw her on my way out of the party. She seems like a lovely woman.”

“She
is
a lovely woman.”

“How has Allen been treating you?”

“Oh.” I choked on my Tab. “He's been a perfect gentleman … Where are we going?”

“I've been looking at houses, and I've narrowed it down to two. I can't make up my mind. One is very expensive, and the other is closer to being reasonable. I need help. I'm getting tired of the cold walls of condominium living. You don't know me very well, but I have two boys from a previous marriage, and I'd like them to have separate rooms to sleep in. Right now they're sleeping in the same room on futons.”

“How old are they?”

“Jeremy is six; Kevin is eight. They're great. They just need some room, a yard, and a dog.”

“I know what you mean. I'd like any one of those myself.”

“So … you don't mind taking a ride? I'd like to know what you think.”

“Not at all. I'm an architecture addict. My father was a builder, so I've spent a lot of time watching cement trucks pour concrete into big holes.”

“Really?” He laughed his loving laugh.

“Oh yeah. I used to study his blueprints before I walked through his houses—just to test the dimensions against the drawings and get the feel for how they translated into real space.”

“I'm impressed.”

“Oh, please! I used to love looking at those tiny architectural models, the ones that look like little dollhouses. Do you have any idea how they make grass for the lawns of those little houses?”

“I have no idea, but I think you're going to tell me.”

“They dye sawdust and put it through a strainer. To make trees, they take foam, whip it in a blender, and then dye the foam all different shades of green … Guess how they make bathtubs?”

“They take a normal-size tub and shrink it in a oven?”

“No, they use dental compound and make tiny little molds. And when they need a roof, they crush granulated sand with a rolling pin, spray it with black lacquer, and dry it with a hair dryer.”

“Well. I had no idea I was asking a pro.”

“Do you want some salad?”

“No, thanks. I have an early dinner party.”

I ate my salad carefully, not spilling a crumb on his beige leather seats. He was so easy to talk to, so much fun to be around. And he was giving me a lot more attention than Mr. Cahill was at the moment. I rolled down the window and inhaled the tang of the sea air.

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