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Circumstances - 8. Julian Through The Looking Glass

A guy in his 20's, just trying to keep it together. in the theater and in San Francisco.

Thursday wasn’t exactly an ordinary day to start with because we had a show opening Friday night. It was just a kid show, for kids, by kids, with adult help, me being one of the adults. It was just a summer job, and, after the show’s three-performance run, I was out of a job and out of a place to live. So in addition to overseeing the rehearsals Thursday, I was waiting for calls from the two friends I’d be sharing an apartment with in September.

Rehearsals, afternoon and evening, went smoothly though the calls didn’t – they never came. And when I got home that evening, to the apartment Linsay, Samantha, and I were temporarily sharing, I asked what had happened. Or I would have asked what had happened if I could hear myself speak.

“Could you turn that down?” I asked. I could hear music blaring when I got off the elevator and was surprised to find it coming from my own apartment.

“What!” Linsay predictably yelled, and I turned down the music. “Why’d you do that?” she asked.

“So I could talk to you. Besides, I have a headache.”

“Well, you’re just gonna have to get used to the music ‘cause we’re gonna be up all night packing, and we’re not doing it without music.”

“I have a show opening tomorrow. I need to sleep.”

“And we need to be out of here tomorrow night. And the place isn’t packing itself.”

I would have tried to persuade Linsay otherwise, but just then, my cell phone rang.

“Yeah?” I said. It was Emily, my show’s stage manager. “Disaster!” she predicted

I went to the furthest corner of the apartment, the bedroom I shared with Linsay, closed the door and tried to listen to Emily over the now once again blaring music.

“The looking glass broke in rehearsal, and they’ll never get a new one made in time. And even if they do, it’ll probably just break again.”

“It’ll be fine,” I told Emily, though I didn’t know that for sure. But I trusted the shop guys, and just ‘cause they’d messed up the first time didn’t mean they wouldn’t solve the problem the second. Besides, I had bigger concerns. If I didn’t get some sleep, I was gonna be in no shape to stay cooly in charge the next day.

Once Emily relaxed, I briefly told her my problem -- the music, the all-nighter, and Linsay constantly going in and out of our shared bedroom with the lights on.

“Come over here to sleep,” Em said. “My roommate’s gone.”

I thought about it for two seconds then said, “I’m on my way.” Still, I think that caught Emily by surprise. She’d made the offer but didn’t exactly expect me to take her up on it.

“Yeah, sure,” she said, hazily. “Great.”

I grabbed the few things I needed then went back into the living room where Samantha was working alone. “Where’s Linz?” I asked.

“Out. She needed a break. We’ve been doing this all night.”

It was only ten o’clock, so it wasn’t all night. But still...

“Well, I’m going out,” I told Sam. “I’m staying at Em’s. I’ve got to get some sleep.”

“Makes sense,” Samantha agreed. “Considering...”

I started to leave, but something in Samantha’s look held me back. “What?” I asked.

“What ‘What’?” she asked back

“What?” I repeated, more forcefully.

For a moment, she stared at me, then shrugged and said, “I told her we shouldn’t keep this secret.”

“What?” I said again, but Sam said nothing.

“Who?” I tried.

“Linz.”

“What? I went back to, again facing silence. Finally, Sam broke.

“Well, you know the problem we’ve been having finding a three-bedroom apartment,” she said.

I nodded, not pointing out that if their credit rating hadn’t been so terrible, we wouldn’t be having these problems. For some reason, for a year, Linsay had stoppd paying off her credit cards, and Samantha, just out of college, barely had a credit rating at all. Only mine was unblemished.

“Well, Linz panicked this afternoon,” Sam went on, “and kind of committed us to a two-bedroom in case the three-bedroom falls through.”

“So that’s where you were all afternoon,” I said, “when you weren’t returning my calls.”

Sam wouldn’t exactly look at me.

“You were supposed to be turning in your credit ratings,” I pointed out. “So we’d have a chance at the three-bedroom. We’re never gonna get approved if you don’t turn in your applications.”

Sam said nothing.

“And how do you expect to get a two-bedroom apartment on your credit ratings, when it’s been mine all along that’s bailing us out?”

Sam busied herself looking through a box that was already presumably packed. Clearly, I was getting nothing further.

“Look,” I said, “I’ve got to get some sleep. I’ve got a show opening tomorrow. I’ll call you in the afternoon.

Sam nodded, still not looking at me, and I was at the door before I realized something.

“Wait,” I said. “You didn’t use my credit rating to get yourself this new apartment.”

“We haven’t gotten an apartment yet. It’s just plan b if the three-bedroom falls through.”

“But if you haven’t turned in your paperwork for that... And if you’ve ‘committed’ to the two-bedroom...”

“Your name isn’t on the lease, “Samantha suddenly said, too loudly.

“But you did use my credit rating...”

Again, she wouldn’t look at me. And I couldn’t look at her or take the time to deal with this now. “I’ll call you tomorrow,” I said. “We’ll talk about this tomorrow,” I insisted. And I got out of there before I started to yell.

In the car, I called Ily, the guy I’m kinda half-seeing. I’d be seeing him more if he’d agree to take an Aids test, not that I expect he’s infected. I just want to be sure, but he doesn’t want to know because he says it will ruin his life. And I can’t be serious about a guy who’s that indecisive.

“Hey!” Ily said, always glad to hear from me. “What’s up?”

I told him.

“Man,” he said.

I went on.

“God,” he inserted

And I continued.

“Jesus,” he agreed.

And when I lit into Linsay, he said, “She’s here.”

“What?”

“Yeah. She came over maybe fifteen minutes ago. She wants to talk with you.”

“Not now,” I said. I just can’t go into this.”

“She wants to talk with you,” he repeated.

“Not now.”

“She wants to talk...”

“No!”

And Linsay came on the phone.

“Look, Linz,” I began. “Having a plan b was probably a good idea. You just should’ve told me about it. After all, I’m the one who’s been looking for an apartment for the three of us all month. I’m the one who’s had the time...”

Then she started to yell. It wasn’t exactly sensible yelling. But it’s like she expected me to get on the phone with her all angry, and when I wasn’t angry, she got angry because she’d built up all these defenses preparing for it.

“I can’t talk with you now,” I finally got in, calmly. And I hung up just as I turned into Emily’s street. She opened her door looking just a little defensive herself.

“I kind of invited my boyfriend,” she said. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Nah,” I waved away. “I brought enough food.” We hadn’t eaten dinner ‘cause we didn’t have a chance to between afternoon and evening rehearsals, so I’d grabbed a few things from my freezer. “There’s plenty for three.”

We ate. I griped. They were sympathetic. Then we all went to sleep. Well, almost. Just before I was completely out of it, my cell phone rang.

“Yeah?” I answered.

“Oh, I didn’t think you’d pick up.”

It was Linz.

“You were just gonna leave a message?” I asked.

She didn’t answer, which must have meant “yes.”

“I just wanted to say you were right,” she finally went on. “We should have told you.” And then she started to yell again. I don’t know about what. Stupid things. One-in-the-morning things. Somewhere in there. she mentioned that she didn’t want to be committed to an ugly two-bedroom apartment with Samantha, out in an area where they didn’t want to live, but it was the only thing they could get their hands on.

“Look, Linz,” I finally said. “I’ve got to go to sleep.” And I hung up and turned off the phone.

Friday morning, I woke up cloudy, and it didn’t go away. Even if the three bedroom came through, I wasn’t sure I wanted to live with Linsay and Sam. We’d all been friends for years, but what they were pulling seemed too much. Besides, I’d temporarily sandwiched us into a two-week sublet, between the time we had to be out of our current apartment and before the three-bedroom came through. And that was all on my credit card. If Linsay and Sam decided not to pay me for that...

On my way to work, I called Alec, to vent. Venting is good on the way to work, especially in traffic. Alec listened. Alec was sad. Alec had a solution.

“Look, my roommate’s away for two weeks. He’s gone to the Burning Man Festival. Why don’t you stay here till you find your own place?”

“Great,” I said. “I’ll tell Linz and Sam.”

Then I thought about it. Everything I had was in their apartment -- technically, the current place was theirs through the summer. If I called them from work and said I was pulling out of the two-week sublet and probably – pretty definitely – pulling out of living with them in the fall, even though they were my friends, what was preventing them from trashing everything I had in our apartment?

I told this to Alec.

Again, he had the answer.

“You get a lunch break?” he asked.

“An hour.”

“Pick me up. I’ll go with you. We’ll grab all your stuff, and after you get it, you can tell them what’s happening.”

That seemed low, but clean, and we did it.

Linz wasn’t home. Sam was still packing. Alec and I swept in, swept out, and, leaving my keys, I told Sam what I’d decided.

She yelled. I yelled. And then I was out of there. I dropped Alec off and was back to Alice and the Looking Glass.

Afternoon rehearsal went smoothly. If my mind wasn’t entirely on it, I had good reason. But everything had been set up so well in advance, I really didn’t have to think. I just had to sit back and enjoy. In the middle of the afternoon, my phone rang, and I cautiously answered.

It was Sarah, an actress I hear from maybe once a month. She asked what was going on. I told her, surprised how much anger I still had in my system.

“Hey,” she said, “my roommate needs a sublet. She’s gonna be away for a couple of months. You interested?”

“Yes!” I practically shouted, and the lighting board guys just in front of me looked away from their cues. “Nothing,” I whispered to them, then firmed things up with Sarah.

I had a place for the next ten days.

I had a place for the two months following.

I had a job for September and October.

I was done with Linsay and Samantha, and I’d somehow clean up our friendship later.

I went back to the show.

Dinner break came, and I was HUNGRY. Between waking up almost unable to eat and working through lunch, I’d had no food since last night. The choreographer, the music director, Emily, and I all took off for dinner. Melissa, the music director, knew where we were going, and she led us to a restaurant the rest of us had never seen. “It’s great,” she assured us.

But slow. Halfway through the time we had, we still hadn’t gotten our food, and Emily was fretting. “I’ve got to get back,” she said.

She had to be at the theater an hour before we did, so we’d followed Melissa in Emily’s car.

“Go,” I said. “I’ll bring you take-out.” And she was gone.

Melissa, Erin, and I ate. Melissa was right – the food was great and so were the drinks. We each had a chocolate martini, saying that what we needed most just then, to eliminate our opening night jitters, was chocolate and alcohol. Then Melissa ordered another one.

“You sure you ought to?” I kidded. “I mean, you have to play for the show.”

Not only was she the music director, she was also half the orchestra, the piano. Her assistant – the other half – was accompanying her on the synthesizer.

“I can hold my alcohol,” Melissa assured us, though when her drink came, she offered to share it with us. Erin took one sip and said, “Wow! That’s really strong.” I passed. I wasn’t driving, but I still needed to be clear-headed.

Melissa sipped while we finished dessert, then, grinning, announced, “I am now officially tipsy.”

“Uh-oh,” I thought, though I’ve been accused of being over-protective. And things rapidly disintergrated from then. It’s not that Melissa drank more, she just seemed to fall apart. Soon, she was on the women’s room floor, crying and trying to throw up, while dredging up all her worst competitive memories from childhood. “My mother said I’ve never succeed, but my husband’s always been so supportive...”

While Erin tried to sober her up – “Give her lots of water,” I instructed since I could only go into the women’s room in an emergency – I called the director. Or tried to since his phone was only taking messages. But I did get through to someone in costumes, who got me through to the assistant music director, and I told her to get a copy of the piano score and start practicing.

“We open in an hour,” she said. Well, it was more of a wail.

“Do it!” I said. She was put off as she’d never heard me bark before. But she also couldn’t see Melissa, stretched out on the bathroom floor, so she didn’t understand my urgency. Later, she apologized.

Meanwhile, Melissa presented another problem – she had the car keys and was insisting she was going to drive. Between trying to barf and whining about her bitch mother, all around constantly repeating how much she loved her husband, she was hanging onto her car keys as if they were her only link to the world. I finally pried them from her tightly-clenched fingers. Next, we had to find the car.

Since I’d come with Emily, I didn’t know where Melissa had parked. Erin had only seen the car once, when she’d come to the restaurant with Melissa, and couldn’t remember what it looked like. “But there’s a violin case in the back seat,” she told me, so we went car-to-car in the parking lot looking for that. When we found the car, thank God it wasn’t a stick shift, so I could drive. And I only got lost two times trying to get back to roads I recognized. When we reached the theater, Melissa was doing a passable imitation of sober.

“What’s the problem?” the director asked. He’d heard from the assistant music director before we’d gotten there and was prepared from something much worse.

“I’m fine,” Melissa insisted.

“Just have her play a song for you,” I insisted.

“I can!” Melissa said.

“Then do it!” I responded.

And she played – reasonably. Still, I took her assistant aside and said, “Just be prepared to cover on the synthesizer if you have to. You know she’s never gonna leave the piano bench.”

“I will,” the assistant said, and the show went on. Maybe as usual, the audience – mainly parents and friends of the kid actors – never noticed, so all ended happily. Though just before we started, Melissa gave me a piece of the puzzle I hadn’t had before.

“I probably never should have taken that pain killer,” she admitted.

“When?” I asked.

“Just before dinner. My neck was killing me from rehearsal.”

“What kind of pain killer? I asked. “Tylenol?”

“I don’t know. Something my doctor prescribed.”

“You mixed drugs and alcohol?”

“My doctor gave it to me!”

This was a thirty-five-year-old woman, living in San Francisco, perhaps the drug-awareness capital of the United States, and she didn’t know about drugs and alcohol.

“Let me see the bottle,” I asked.

She dug through her purse and gave it to me.

Vicodin. Smack through the looking glass.

2019 by Richard Eisbrouch
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